With Oli McBurnie (foot) and Billy Sharp (tendon) out for the season, Sander Berge (thigh), Chris Basham (calf), Jack Robinson (foot), Jack O’Connell and Jack Rodwell (both knee) not yet back from injury – Berge is back in full training, but needs more work before he can play – and John Fleck a doubt at Wolverhampton Wanderers with a groin injury tonight, alternatives are wearing thin. Interim manager Paul Heckingbottom however, is determined not to ask his surrogate children to do anything which could do lasting damage.
“I’d want every young player we’ve brought through to play in the first team, everyone would,” argues Heckingbottom, who has stepped up from the Under-23 role. “The fans would, the club, it would save them money and they’d have assets they could sell.
“The fact is, not everyone is good enough. They might not be good enough here but we might still be able to develop them a career elsewhere. But I’ve also been in situations where people have pushed young players for those reasons and I’ve felt it’s not right and seen them go under. Their career has been over before the start.
“That’s one thing I’m always wary of – not to the point of saying I’d never expose them to it because the most important thing you have to provide to young players is opportunity.
“I feel a responsibility to any player I work with. I end up treating them like they’re my kids in terms of what I expect, standards, telling them off more, praising them more.
“Some of the guys at first-team level are grown men with families so whilst you still might be demanding the same standards of them and they need the same advice, it may be delivered in a different way, more like a big brother.”