SHEFFIELD United manager Kevin Blackwell says Kyle Naughton's call-up to the England under-21 squad which entertains the Czech Republic at Bramall Lane next week is "thoroughly deserved."
Blackwell was speaking after hearing England U-21 boss Stuart Pearce insist that the young defender should view Tuesday's match as an opportunity to force his way into the senior team for the European Championships in Sweden in June.
Confirmation that Naughton had joined the likes of Micah Richards, Fraizer Campbell and Aaron Lennon in Pearce's 21 strong party marks the latest stage of what has been a dramatic journey for the latest graduate of United's Shirecliffe youth academy.
Just 13 games after making his debut for Blackwell's side Naughton, who turned 20 yesterday, has already established himself as a permanent fixture on the right hand side of a back four which has conceded just two goals in its last eight outings and attracted interest from a host of Premier League clubs including Aston Villa and Arsenal.
Blackwell, having recently stressed that United have no plans to cash in on his talent, told The Star: "I'm delighted for Kyle.
"His inclusion is thoroughly deserved and just reward for what he's achieved so far.
"It's a tribute to the work that Ron Reid and Kevin Fogg do up at the academy because it shows the quality of player they are capable of producing there.
"And it's also a tribute to the hard work that Kyle has put in himself.
"Make no mistake, he's in there on merit."
Naughton, a United supporter as a boy, is expected to make his latest appearance for the South Yorkshire club against Reading this weekend.
Blackwell added: "I'm sure it makes it extra special that he could make his debut for the under-21's on his home ground.
"It would be special wherever it was but doubly so because it could be in front of his own fans as it were."
Naughton is among a crop of Blades players called up for international duty.
The others are Gary Naysmith (Scotland), David Carney (Australia), Justin Haber (Malta), Keith Gillespie (Northern Ireland), Adam Chapman (N Ireland U-21s) and Anthony Stokes (Republic of Ireland).
Pearce, who won 78 caps for his country during a distinguished career, insisted: "Everyone who is in should look at this as an opportunity for them to book their place in our plans (for Sweden).
"And also as a springboard because that's what the under-21's are supposed to be; a springboard to the full international side.
"I was at Bramall Lane for the Sheffield derby last season and the atmosphere took me back 30 years, it was terrific, and I'm sure it will be again."
Tickets for the match, priced 10 adults and 5 concessions, are on sale now.
United reserves were held to a 0-0 draw at Nottingham Forest yesterday.
Team: Greg Halford, Gary Naysmith, Lee Hendrie and Justin Haber all featured alongside Nathan Dyer, Nick Montgomery and David Cotterill.
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