Next Gen – Owls pair hail future of Sheffield Wednesday and Barry Bannan's critical role
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While the likes of Osaze Urhoghide and Alex Hunt have already taken their first team bows this season, others such as Conor Grant, Fraser Preston and Ben Hughes find themselves on the cusp, and this intense period to finish the 2019/20 season could be the opportunity they need to prove themselves at senior level.
Speaking to The Star this week, the Owls manager explained that the youngsters – many of whom have been training with the first team for some time now – are definitely in contention for the remaining fixtures, which start with Nottingham Forest at home tomorrow.
He said in a Zoom call, “That’s why they’re in the squad, but not just for now, for the future as well… Working with those young players, I see potential in them, and that’s why they’ve been training with me. Some of them have had a taste of first team football as well.”
But it will be no charity case, you can make certain of that. Monk says he’s not out to experiment in the final nine games, but does welcome the competitiveness that the hunger of young players bring with them.
“Make no mistake, these games, the plan is to win,” he said. “It’s not about just experimenting and seeing what’s what. That’s always at the forefront of your mind.
“But I want those young players to do well, I love working with young players, and if the opportunity is there - in this period as it has done before - then I’ll use them.
“They’re training very well. The whole group has come back very competitive. There’s guys playing for their futures, young lads trying to make their way, and that’s what you want. You need that type of dynamic in the squad - if you can get that, it makes it competitive and makes the group hungry. That’s what we need to encourage more of going forward.
“If there’s the opportunity with them, and it’s the right moment, the right game, and they’ve done well enough, then of course they’ll be involved.
“It’s highly liked that they’ll be involved in this period of games.”
And Reach, who came through the youth ranks at Middlesbrough prior to moving to Hillsborough, is looking forward to seeing them get more of a chance as games start to come thick and fast in July – especially Urhoghide and Hunt.
He told The Star in a press conference a few days ago, “During my time at the club there hasn’t been many young players coming through, probably more to do with how big our squad has been in recent seasons - we’ve had a huge squad of senior players - but this situation has now come.
“Obviously Osaze had a couple of breakthrough games, against Brighton and Leeds especially, and he’s going to be a bit talent.
“He’s been with us for most of the season, and Alex Hunt as well. I’m expecting to see him feature heavily in the last nine games, because he deserves the opportunity - he’s been brilliant.”
And they aren’t the only ones…
“We’ve got other players coming through as well,” he added. “Like Conor Grant who’s been with us for some time, and Fraser Preston who is always scoring for the U23s, and I think the future is bright for Sheffield Wednesday.
And in the current situation we’re in, in a worst case scenario we could see ourselves losing a dozen senior players in two weeks’ time, so I’m sure the manager is well aware of the players that we have in the U23s. This could be the catalyst, an opportunity for them that they didn’t expect to get.
Reach also made mention of the relationship being formed between Wednesday engine, Barry Bannan, and young prodigy, Hunt, that is developing off the field, saying, “Barry and Alex have formed a really good partnership at the minute in training. Baz is talking him through things and taking him under his wing.”
Bannan did speak earlier this season of their connection, saying, “We’re quite close off the pitch and with me being a bit older now I try to help him if I can… He’s doing really well. It’s difficult to try and play someone at that age at the minute. The manager is probably trying to get him minutes because he’s a good player.”
“It’s the way he passed the ball that caught my eye. He was already training with us and being a midfielder I liked what I saw. It’s good to be giving him little bits of advice here and there and if it can help him then that’s good.”
Wednesday do have a handful of players such as Liam Palmer, Cameron Dawson and Joe Wildsmith that have come through the youth ranks and played regularly for the club, however following the success of both the U18s and U23s in the past few years following the appointment of Academy Manager, Steve Haslam, that number could grow.
Under Monk, Urhoghide and Hunt have played, Grant, Hughes and Preslav Borukov have made matchday squads, and a whole host of others have trained with the first team. Now, with nine games in five weeks, they may be asked to step up.