Inside Middlewood Road: How academy youngsters such as Alex Hunt are helping Garry Monk breathe new life into Sheffield Wednesday

It’s not usual for a teenager contracted to Sheffield Wednesday to be asked to emulate the movements of Aleksandar Mitrovic or Pablo Hernandez.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 7th February 2020, 6:00 am

It’s a tall order of course, but it’s one that is carried out most weeks as Garry Monk seeks to prepare his first team charges for the challenges of the match ahead.

Academy players are brought in – sometimes two-by-two, other times en masse – to replicate the dangers or defences of the weekend’s opposition.

It’s an exercise relatively common across the football world, offering the youngsters a glimpse of first team standards and the opportunity to pit themselves against their club’s best.

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And while few would expect a fresh-faced 18-year-old to produce the same threat as Saïd Benrahma, it’s one that Owls boss Garry Monk describes as vital.

A peek over the high walls of Middlewood Road during the week would reveal any number of those academy players training with the big boys, working on any number of things. It’s rare that a session or exercise doesn’t include an academy name.

Osaze Urhoghide started three consecutive matches in January having impressed Monk in training and Alex Hunt was trusted to step into the shoes of midfield general Sam Hutchinson in the win at QPR. Preslav Borukov and Ben Hughes have featured on the bench in recent weeks.

And it is because of their hard work during the week that the Owls boss gave them a chance.

Sheffield Wednesday youngster Alex Hunt celebrates the Owls' 2-1 FA Cup victory at QPR with senior man Joey Pelupessy.

“I’ve always done it,” Monk said. “It’s a good thing to do because it gives me a chance to have a good look at them and it gives them a chance to have a look at what it is to be at a first team level.

“They’re involved in everything, the training, the preparation and we use some of them to prepare against. They see it all.

“They have to be aware of what it is to be a first team player and see the standards that are expected.”

Monk has commented on the fact that Wednesday’s is among the oldest squads in the Championship and has spoken about the need to freshen things up going forward.

Things have been ‘too comfortable for too long’ in the boss’ book and while he accepts youth development is the primary motive behind their inclusion at training, he admitted they inject an energy and freshness to proceedings.

He said: “It works both ways. It’s also to keep the first team players on their toes and to let them know that these youngsters are coming through.

“It might not be right now, it might be, but maybe in a year or two they’re coming.

“Creating that pathway is important. If you’ve got an academy at a club, it’s pointless not using it. Each of them are involved at some part of the week.”

Which player has taken on the role of Barnsley top scorer Cauley Woodrow this week? That’s been locked behind closed doors.

But we do know is that Garry Monk has one eye on the future at Middlewood Road.