Lifting the Checkatrade Trophy might not feature at the top of Chris Wilder’s bucket list.
But, for the likes of Ben Whiteman and Louis Reed, a long run in the much-maligned tournament is a definite priority this term. After all, the forthcoming ties against Walsall and Grimsby Town represent their best route back into the first team.
“Like all young players they’ve got to earn the right to get in there,” Wilder said. “They’ve got to impress me and the coaching staff with everything they do. I’m not going to make special cases because someone played in the first team three years ago. It’s about now. They’ve got to impress in training, in the EFL Trophy and in the under-23’s. But they are in our plans, yes. They’ll get all the help they need.”
Whiteman and Reed, who were both named in the squad for August’s opener against Leicester City under-23’s, could start United’s second Group H match when Jon Whitney’s team visits Bramall Lane this evening.
Although neither have enjoyed regular football since Wilder’s appointment in May, the 48-year-old insists they and fellow Steelphalt Academy graduate David Brooks remain integral parts of his United masterplan.
“We like working with young players because of their energy and attitude,” Wilder said. “I think, if you look at our records, we have never been scared to give them a chance.
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“For Reedy and Ben, they have to be ready to go in. They are being kept out by some good players. But what if something happens to Couttsy? What if something happens to Basham? They have to be ready and prepared to step in if that situation materialises.”
Wilder, despite his misgivings about aspects of the competition, named a strong side for the encounter with City in a bid to kick-start United’s campaign. Then, having lost four of their opening six fixtures this season, Wilder’s players were desperately searching for some momentum. Now, unbeaten in seven after drawing with Fleetwood Town last weekend, that is no longer a concern and might persuade United to hand Whiteman, Reed and Brooks prominent roles. Certainly, after being installed as Simon Moore’s deputy, it would be wise to hand goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale his senior debut although he is expected to be away on international duty with England under-19’s.
Wilder, reflecting on United’s display against City, insisted he is not adverse to the odd footballing experiment.
“It’s a game of football to be approached in the right way,” he said. “We had Harry (Chapman) at the top of the pitch and that’s not his natural position. Lou Reed went up there. We have to be really fit to play the way that we play but that will come through more work on the training ground.”
Meanwhile, United have rearranged their League One meeting with Walsall for Tuesday 29 November. They had been due to face each other again at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon but the game was postponed due to international call-ups. Tickets for the original date will remain valid.
Wilder, speaking earlier this week, admitted that he wanted the match to be played “sooner rather than later.”
“It (the postponement) was a shame because we would like to keep a little bit of momentum going,” he said. “But you always try and take something for any given situation in this business.”