James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Two more roll-off the academy conveyor belt

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It’s been a pretty good week for Sheffield United’s academy, writes James Shield.

Potentially, a significant one too with Otis Khan and Conor Dimaio both making their senior debuts on Tuesday night, just over 24 hours after the South Yorkshire club’s under-21’s had beaten Sheffield Wednesday 4-0 in front of a delighted home crowd.

Social media savvy supporters from the red and white side of the Steel City certainly made sure they enjoyed themselves after that emphatic result.

The most important statistic, though, was not the scoreline. Instead it was the fact that Chris Morgan, United’s Professional Development League coach, named nine home grown players in his starting eleven. All of whom, Sean McGinty apart, were under 19-years-old.

Now, don’t interpret the theme of this column as a dig at the visitors from Hillsborough. It isn’t and, if it were, would be unprofessional in the extreme.

But watching the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jordan Hodder and Diego DeGirolamo - three more youngsters who have sampled life with Nigel Clough’s squad in recent weeks - deliver such a mature display against experienced opponents such as David Prutton and Gary Madine confirmed there is some sterling work going on behind the scenes at Shirecliffe.

And, crucially, the wisdom of the manager’s decision to pay such close attention to the machinations of a development programme which has already spawned internationals such as Kyle Walker, Phil Jagielka and Stephen Quinn.

With Martin Taylor, albeit briefly, joining Prutton and Madine in Wednesday’s squad, Morgan’s charges deserve huge credit for prevailing over a team with three players boasting a combined total of 1058 senior appearances at their disposal.

Or, in more simple terms, a huge amount of knowledge, ability and footballing know-how.

Clough, who watches as many under-16, under-18 and PDL fixtures as his job allows, has made no secret of the fact that there is a direct correlation between performances at youth level and places on United’s first team bench.

Louis Reed, who impressed during an FA Youth Cup fixture against Everton, will concur after being fast-tracked onto it for fixtures against Peterborough and MK Dons.

Deliver and opportunities follow. Fail to effectively utilise your potential and, for a short-time at least, they will be in short supply.

With George Long, Harry Maguire and Terry Kennedy also progressing through the ranks in recent seasons, those wishing to take advantage of Clough’s promise to blood more academy graduates during the closing stages of the campaign should take note.

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