MICKY Adams last night rubbished claims that by exposing youngsters to the rigours of a relegation battle Sheffield United threaten to compromise the integrity of Championship competition.
Instead, the United manager paid Jordan Slew, Harry Maguire and Danny Philliskirk the ultimate compliment by insisting their recent selection in his first-team squad is based purely on merit.
Despite still retaining a mathematical chance of survival, the South Yorkshire club are poised to include all three in their plans for this afternoon’s visit of Bristol City.
United are sensitive to suggestions they could be protecting key names ahead of a summer exodus after complaining Liverpool’s decision to field a weakened side against Fulham in May 2007 contributed to their relegation from the Premier League later that year.
Adams said: “They are involved because I’m picking the best team that’s available to me. We’ve got a few injuries, I’m not denying that, but these lads are in there simply because they deserve it.
“I’m not picking them to try and curry favour or trying to hang on to my job.”
With United languishing at the bottom of the table, their academy side’s qualification for the FA Youth Cup Final has been a rare success during an otherwise troubled season.
Maguire and Slew, who are both expected to face Manchester United in the forthcoming showpiece, made their first senior starts against Preston North End last weekend with the latter on target in the 3-1 defeat.
“I’ve watched Jordan in all of the cup games and he’s really improved from the start of the season,” Adams said. “He’s come on a lot and, in my opinion, has had a big role to play in getting the youngsters to where they are now.
“That’s really good to see.”
Philliskirk, who appeared as a second-half substitute at Deepdale, arrived on loan from Chelsea earlier this term but will complete a permanent transfer to Bramall Lane shortly.
Adams confirmed: “There’s a pre-contract in place so he’ll be coming here permanently very soon. In fairness to the lad, he didn’t come on in his best position but I still thought he did well.
“Like all of these boys, there are lots of areas where he needs to improve but I was pleased with him.”
With strikers Ched Evans (knee) and Richard Cresswell (groin) not only set to miss today’s contest but also Bank Holiday Monday’s trip to Reading, Joe Mattock is the only new addition to the United squad beaten in Lancashire.
Matt Harriott, Norwegian teenager Erik Tonne and 22-year-old midfielder David McAllister, a January signing from St Patrick’s Athletic, have been pencilled in for roles against opponents who could welcome back captain Louis Carey from serious injury.
Keith Millen, the City manager, confirmed he wants to offer the defender a new contract when his present deal expires in June.
“Louis wants to stay here and I want him here with us beyond the summer,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll come to an agreement.
“Louis is Bristol City through and through.”