James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why the manager must take this bold step
At first glance, tomorrow's visit to Coventry City boasts all the sensuous promise of an evening with Blunderwoman.
Alternatively, for those of the fairer sex or slightly younger vintage, Wayne Slob and Susan Boyle.
Sheffield United must win and then hope Gillingham and Barnsley both drop points to stand any chance of securing a top six finish when Scunthorpe visit Bramall Lane next weekend. Something which, in this most unpredictable of divisions, is a possibility. But, equally, their hopes of promotion could be over for another year by the time the match at the Ricoh Arena, an aesthetically pleasing but atmospherically soulless stadium, reaches half-time.
So, to prevent the penultimate match of the season from becoming a dead-rubber, manager Nigel Adkins should consider this bold but eminently sensible step. Play the kids. Select Ben Whiteman, Graham Kelly and Louis Reed. Perhaps even grant Diego De Girolamo a rare run-out too.
I can appreciate the temptation to do otherwise, particularly as the campaign is still, albeit only just, alive. But a combination of quality - all four, five if you count Dominic Calvert-Lewin, are good enough to make telling contributions against Tony Mowbray’s side - and changes to the transfer system mean United are expected to rely even more heavily on home-grown talent over the coming 12 months and beyond. By abolishing emergency loans, FIFA has forced lower league clubs to choose between assembling huge squads or promoting from within ahead of the 2016/17 campaign. United, who have a proud record when it comes to youth development, should view this move as an opportunity to reap the rewards of their investment given the wealth of ability which exists within the Steelphalt Academy’s ranks. The meeting with City represents a chance to give its latest graduates some valuable experience, not to mention a reminder of the standards they must adhere to next term.
De Girolamo would certainly benefit. Seldom has so much been written about a youngster who has played so little since making his professional debut at this ground exactly 177 weeks and three days ago. The Italy youth international, waiting to make his only his second appearance of the season, boasts masses of potential but, inadvertently or otherwise, failed to endear himself to at least three of Adkins’ predecessors. The former Southampton and Reading chief’s coaches are also unlikely to have been impressed by a recent, ill-advised tweet. (Privately, several established members of the dressing room certainly interpreted it as a lack of respect.) De Girolamo is understandably frustrated by his lack of progress but, providing he shows contrition and some of those advising him are willing to demonstrate a more subtle approach - no more planted stories in the media about past interest from Juventus please - United’s backroom staff would be advised to persevere with the centre-forward. Strike a pact whereby no more off-the-pitch indiscretions are rewarded with greater opportunities. Starting in 24 hours’ time perhaps?