Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough has made a point of monitoring events at the Redtooth Academy closely since taking charge of the League One club, writes James Shield.
And, following Monday’s FA Youth Cup fourth round tie against Millwall, members of the team which triumphed 8-7 on penalties at the New Den have been told their progress in recent weeks will be rewarded with first team opportunities should League One safety be achieved.
“It’s important to have these lads coming through,” Clough, who travelled to London for the game, said. “There are some really good prospects in that team.
“We had four 20 year olds on the bench for our last game. Some of them have not been involved as much as arguably they should have been earlier this season but, if we get ourselves into a position of safety, then we’ll look to bring them through without a doubt.”
United remained 19th in the table when they drew with Bradford City last weekend. Clough’s charges return to league action when they entertain Peterborough 72 hours after Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Fulham.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a member of the team which accounted for Millwall, featured among the substitutes when United beat Aston Villa in the previous round.
“That’s what the development squad is there for,” Clough continued. “To develop and bring players into the first team.
They might be 18th, 19th or even 20th on the list but, get a few injuries and suddenly they get their chance. It’s crucial there’s that pathway through and opportunities there. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Jamie McDonagh, the Northern Ireland youth international, appeared on course to make his senior debut after featuring alongside the likes of Ryan Flynn, Matt Hill and Tony McMahon against Alfreton last summer.
A serious leg injury subsequently hampered his progress but the teenager was presented with a commemorative cap during the half-time interval of the Yorkshire derby with City by Travis Binnion, United’s professional development lead coach, head of coach development John Dungworth and vice-president Mike Blundell.
“Jamie has shown an absolutely fantastic attitude towards his rehabilitation,” Nick Cox, United’s academy manager, said. “I know he’s delighted to see his team mates do well because there’s a really strong spirit among the lads here.
“But, at the same time, it must be a testing time for him because, although Jamie is still very much a part of whatever the group achieves, we understand that nothing beats actually being out there on the pitch.
“That’s why the character and application he has shown is so impressive. He deserved this recognition.”
United’s reward for overcoming Millwall - they fought back from two goals down before triumphing on spot-kicks - is a fifth round tie against Everton next month. A date for the match is expected to be announced shortly.
“Everyone played their part on another memorable night,” Binnion said. “The comeback demonstrated a real togetherness which is something we pride ourselves on.
“We showed great character to bounce back from trailing 2-0 and, overall, I thought the lads fully deserved to win the game. They showed tremendous spirit.”