THE start of a new season and, if Danny Wilson’s hunch is correct, bright new era too.
Sheffield United’s manager might not seduce football’s hopeless romantics by fielding huge swathes of home-grown talent in his starting 11 against Burton Albion tomorrow.
But, speaking ahead of the club’s first match of the 2012/13 campaign, Wilson predicted at least one member of Bramall Lane’s golden generation could develop into a first-team player of note next term.
“You never know when you are going to stumble across an undiscovered gem,” he told The Star. “We’ve got a lot of good young lads coming through, as we’ve seen over the course of the summer.
“Some of them are ready to be put in. Others aren’t and need more time.
“Really, though, it’s impossible to say right now who is going to really take the opportunity.
“Experience has taught me, quite often, someone comes through and are a real surprise.”
Although Wilson insisted earlier this month that progress in knockout tournaments will not be sacrificed to try and enhance United’s prospects of promotion from League One, several youth academy graduates have furthered their claims for roles against Albion by impressing in friendly competition.
was on target
during last weekend’s victory over Morecambe while Callum McFadzean caught Wilson’s eye with an impressive cameo at Rotherham.
“Joe was sat in the dressing room afterwards with a smile half a mile wide,” Wilson said. “He’s scored before but that was the first time against tried and tested league opposition with most of the senior boys on show.
“It meant the world to him and that was great to see.”
“The likes of Joe and Callum are only going to benefit from being around the first team,” added Wilson. “It’s a vital part of their education.”
“It’s a positive situation for everyone concerned and, if they are sensible and professional, they can use it to their advantage.”
United, returning to competitive action for the first time since May’s ill-fated Wembley showdown with Huddersfield Town, have good reason not to play fast and loose with the rebranded tournament.
Indeed, given its scheduling and format, there is a school of thought which claims the Capital One Cup should be prioritised over its Football Association counterpart.
The vast majority of top-flight clubs enter at the second rather than third round stage, meaning victory over Albion could set up a potentially lucrative tie
against the likes of Aston Villa, Everton or Sunderland.
Wilson, who recently acknowledged that could “make the difference between signing someone or not”, also knows how posting positive results before the end of a transfer window can influence recruitment.
It seems inconceivable that, had United not won their opening two fixtures last term, money would have been released to fund Kevin McDonald’s arrival despite a successful trial.
Ironside, who 48 hours before his exploits at the Globe Arena had been on target against Hallam, was included in the party which toured Malta less than three weeks ago.
Fellow teenager Elliott Whitehouse, who captained United in to the 2011 FA Youth Cup Final, would have faced Gary Rowett’s side but for injury.
With Matthew Harriott and George Long also granted opportunities to stake claims during the build-up to Albion’s visit, Wilson said: “These lads will be around all year so it’s great they can learn.”
Teams and ref
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, McMahon, Collins, Maguire, Hill, Flynn, McDonald, Doyle, Quinn, Porter, Cofie (4-4-2)
BURTON ALBION: Lyness, Green, Webster, Richards, C Palmer, M Palmer, Garnett, Holness, Dyer, Anthony, Kee (4-4-2).
Trevor Kettle: The 45-year-old averaged over four cautions per game last season with a red card every 2.75. Kettle, who will be making the journey north from his Berkshire base, has booked five players, including Matt Hill and Stephen Quinn, in each of his previous two appointments involving Sheffield United. Took charge of Burton Albion’s 7-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers four months ago.
One to watch
Billy Kee: Started his professional career at Leicester City before spells with Accrington Stanley (loan) and Torquay United. The centre-forward, who joined Burton Albion on the eve of last season, has been capped at under-19 and under-21 level for Northern Ireland. Kee attended the same secondary school as former City player Matt Piper and snooker personality Willie Thorne.