Derek Geary, Sheffield United’s under-18’s coach, will grant his players the freedom to express themselves during tomorrow’s Professional Development League semi-final against Charlton Athletic.
But the match, the former United defender admitted last night, will also provide him with another valuable insight into the character of a team which strolled to the PDL2 North title earlier this term.
“I always tell the lads, this is going to be the most enjoyable part of your career in a sense,” Geary said. “Looking back, it was for me. Yes, we want winners and we want winning football. At the same time, though, you are playing with your pals. When you get to first team level, you are playing for contracts, livelihoods and in front of thousands of people who are demanding a result. So, my message is, enjoy the moment, show what you can do and don’t let it pass you by.”
The sense of occasion surrounding the match, a repeat of last season’s final, has been heightened by the fact it takes place at Bramall Lane.
Geary, who made over 100 appearance for United during his own playing career, added: “It’s a big thing, to play at this ground. Some lads, you can see, get out there and think ‘this is me, this is part of my progression and pathway.’ Others, because they spend most of their time at the training ground, go ‘wooah.’ So, although you’ve got to enjoy yourself and soak everything in, there’s that counter-balance of knowing its a showcase event and people will be watching. Because, even though you’ve got to enjoy yourself, these boys are also playing to try and make careers.”
United made sure of first place in their league competition by beating Sheffield Wednesday at Middlewood Road last month thanks to goals from Jordan Hallam and Horatio Hirst. Wednesday face Coventry City in the other semi-final on Saturday.
Geary, whose side is unbeaten since December, said: “Charlton is going to be a tough game but, arguably, I think we’ve got a stronger squad than last year. In a cup game, though, it’s all about what happens on the day.”
Admission to United U18’s v Charlton U18’s (kick-off 7pm) is free to season tickets holders and under-16’s. Non-season ticket holders can gain entrance, priced £3, via the Hualing Stand turnstiles.