News & Star column 06.05.21

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Spare a thought for United’s forgotten victims of this extraordinary season.

Teenagers Charlie Barnes, Charlie Birch, Tom Wilson, Liam Lightfoot and Jamie Armstrong all saw their dreams and aspirations shattered last week when they were released by the club.

The group of ex-academy youngsters were promoted to the senior ranks last year but because of the Covid pandemic had little chance to make an impression.

No one expected them to walk into the first team but the club had plans to help them develop with extra training sessions.

 In normal circumstances they would also have spent longer on loan to clubs further down the pyramid. But with lower league football curtailed since December they had to do their best to catch the eye in training and a couple of reserve games.

Director of Football David Holdsworth admitted: “It’s heart-breaking. I feel for them, they haven’t had the amount of time on the grass, the time to develop in those one-to-one sessions

 “Reserve games for them would obviously have been ideal. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the chance to play football anywhere else because no-one else is playing.”

Their departure, after many years with the club, underlines how tough it is to make the grade in professional football.

Better news is that two of our more established ex-academy lads, Taylor Charters, 19, and Josh Dixon, 20, have had their contracts extended.

The two midfielders are highly regarded and, although they have had limited opportunities, will be hoping to make a big impact next season.

United are also looking to bring on their next batch of youngsters. Winger Lewis Bell, 18 and midfielder Keelan Leslie, 17, have completed their scholarships and have joined the professional ranks.

Hopefully, when Covid is finally behind us, the club can find a way of providing these ex-youth team players with enough game time to give them a real chance to progress.

With fans awaiting news of United’s retained list head coach Chris Beech has already intimated that he wants to keep most of his first team squad together. That will make a nice change from recent years when we have had to completely rebuild in the close season.

The Blues will be hoping to finish the season on a high note by beating Walsall at Brunton Park on Saturday.

 Support the club by watching the game on iFollow with United earning £8 from the £10 match fee.