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The contrasting attitudes to reserve football in Sheffield

This article featured in the newspaper The JUS News Journal which was printed last Thursday and Friday. It was written, designed and produced as a collaborative effort by around 25 MA Print Journalism students at the University of Sheffield.

There are many things which separate Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. A division will not be one of those things next year but the use of a reserve team will be.

Gary Megson announced recently that Wednesday would be pulling their reserve team from the league as it heaped too much pressure on his young players.

Youngsters like Maguire need to be ready for first team action

It is not a pioneering decision. Tottenham, Fulham and Stoke City are among the clubs to have withdrawn from reserve leagues in recent years. Kevin Keegan made a similar move during his time at Newcastle and later admitted he regretted the move.

The Owls’ second string finished bottom of the totesport.co.uk Central Division this year after collecting a measly two points. At the other end of the table, United narrowly missed out on securing the title after losing 4-0 to Derby in their title deciding fixture at Bramall Lane.

Megson’s assertion that the makeup of reserve teams has changed to a form of youth football isn’t entirely true.

The Derby side which dispatched a youthful Blades team was made up of several experienced players. Dean Leacock, Miles Addison and Lee Croft have all played in the Premier League and Chris Porter and Ben Davies have plied their respective trades in league football for many years.

United may have been soundly beaten but the experience of pitting their wits against seasoned veterans was invaluable. Youngsters will learn far more playing against players of the calibre of Leacock, Addison and Croft than they would against those in their own age bracket. The competitive nature which league competitions provide should also not be dismissed.

Reserve football continues to be a stepping stone for tomorrow’s talents and a way for returning stars to regain fitness. Simply arranging friendly fixtures which clubs can manipulate to suit them is not ideal preparation for first team football.

The importance of reserve and youth team football was recognised by the Sheffield United board in the aftermath of the senior team’s relegation.

The board said that the rebuilding job would involve “the careful mix of the young players and those in the development squad alongside more experienced players”.

“At the core of this rebuilding will be our Academy and development players, supported by our own experienced players and new signings who will have the success of the club at their hearts,” said director Scott McCabe.

With youngsters such as forward Jordan Slew and centre-back Harry Maguire coming through to the first-team in recent weeks, relegation could provide a few unexpected opportunities for some.

United will be keen to offload many of their highest earners and the reserves will need to be prepared if and when their chances come.

They have a number of talented players coming through their ranks with the academy side reaching the FA Youth Cup final this month. A competitive reserve team is therefore vital to their future fortunes. Wednesday may yet regret their decision to abandon theirs.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

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