‘You can’t just chuck all the kids in and hope for the best’ – Westlake
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Former Ipswich Town midfielder Ian Westlake would love to see teenager Andre Dozzell make his debut for the club before the end of the season, but says Mick McCarthy must tread carefully with his crop of youngsters coming through the academy.
The Blues look almost certain to be playing in the Championship for a 15th successive season following a run of just one win in seven, but could keep alive their slim play-off hopes with victory at sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow.
Some supporters have called upon McCarthy to give up on this season and use the remaining five games to blood youngsters over the coming weeks, but Westlake – who made his Town debut at the age of 18 in 2002 – urges caution.
“There’s still a small chance of the play-offs so Ipswich can’t throw the towel in just yet,” said the 32-year-old, who stopped playing for Needham Market at the end of last season to concentrate on his property businesses.
“The best thing for young players is to come into a team that is doing really well. Everything is easier when you are playing in a team that is playing confident, free-flowing football and that is obviously not the case at the moment.
“Now is not the time to chuck all the kids in. It’s actually tough to make your debut as a youngster at the end of the season when there’s nothing to play for, because the senior pros around you – and they won’t admit this – will subconsciously lose a little bit of that competitive edge.
“There’s no point in saying ‘chuck a load of the kids in and hope for the best’. You can’t just think ‘one of these four or five might have a chance so let’s see how they get on’. They would need to be a player or players that are viewed very seriously as being part of the first team squad for next season.
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“Saying all of that, if you’re good enough then it doesn’t really matter when you’re put in.”
With McCarthy having confirmed that England Under-17 international midfielder Andre Dozzell is ‘on the bus’ for the trip to Hillsborough, Westlake said: “I speak to a lot of my former team-mates who work up at the training ground and they all say good things about Andre Dozzell. He’s obviously got talent, but he’s not going to suddenly be put in a two-man central midfield.
“The Championship is such a physical league and it’s hard for a really creative, attacking midfielder to come through. In the Premier League you see slighter young players given their chance because the style of football is different. In the Championship, those central positions are often filled by strong, powerful players.
“Andre will probably be eased into the first-team out on the wing or in a No.10 role. It was the same for me. I played central midfield as my career progressed, but as a youngster I started out wide. It was the same for Darren Ambrose too.
“It would be nice to see one or two blooded before the end of the season, but the manager will be very careful about who and when he puts in.”
Blues boss McCarthy said: “Sheffield Wednesday are the one team we’ve got any chance of catching. If we go there and win then we might all be thinking ‘hold on a minute, we’ve now got a chance’.
“Who knows, the kids might help us do that – fresh faces, fresh legs. I don’t want to actively weaken the team then rue what might have been though.”