There was a school of thought at the beginning of the season that, after impressing during friendlies against Rotherham and Stoke City, a spell on loan would best serve Jake Eastwood’s development.
With Simon Moore suspended and Jamal Blackman recovering from injury with only hours to spare, Chris Wilder was probably glad he refused to place the young goalkeeper with a lower league club ahead of last weekend’s victory over Leeds.
Indeed, as the Sheffield United manager decides whether or not to select Eastwood for Friday’s FA Cup tie against Leicester, he has another reason to feel vindicated. Eastwood, Wilder believes, commands the trust of Bramall Lane’s senior players precisely because he remained in South Yorkshire.
“They all know we’ve got three very good goalkeepers here,” Wilder said. “That’s because they see them in training every single day of the week.
“When we play small-sided games or do some finishing work, and Jake is out there making save after save, really good ones too, that’s how they know what he’s capable of. They don’t need anybody to tell them because they see it with their own eyes.
“And I think that’s important. They know and he knows what the score is, what he’s capabilities are, too.”
Eastwood was poised to start the derby with Leeds until Blackman, on loan from Chelsea, passed a late fitness test 24 hours before the fixture. But with Moore scheduled to serve the second game of his three match ban during the fifth round clash - he was dismissed for serious foul play against Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month - Wilder could choose to protect Blackman by fielding Eastwood at the King Power Stadium. The 21-year-old started the EFL Cup clash between the two clubs six months ago.
Midfielder John Fleck will also miss the visit to City, coupled with next week’s Championship fixture against Queens Park Rangers, after collecting his 10th caution of the season on Saturday.
“We know Jake is a really promising young player,” Wilder, who allowed him to join Chesterfield on a short-term basis in December, continued. “That’s why we’ve offered him the new contract.
“We’ve got a very strong goalkeeping department here, probably as strong as I can remember it in a long time, and an outstanding coach too in Darren Ward. All the boys will tell you how much he’s helped them.
“If Jamal hadn’t been ready (for Leeds) then we’d have played Jake, no problem. That’s what we would have done, definitely.”
“With young players, sometimes it’s good to send them out but they can also learn here.”