Football: Bruce worried by high demand on youngsters

Sheffield United 3 Watford 0
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The Independent Online
THERE WERE a number of additional spectators at Bramall Lane on Saturday, diverted from Barnsley's snowed-off FA Cup tie with Tottenham. These included journalists, Tottenham supporters and half-a-dozen weekending Icelandic fans but, though all should have enjoyed Sheffield United's attractive win over Watford, the most rewarding time will have been had by any Premiership scouts in the audience.

They will have returned to their clubs with two names to pass on to their bosses: Curtis Woodhouse and Lee Morris. Both 18 years of age, both in the England youth squad and both making an impact in the Nationwide League's First Division with Sheffield United.

They are long-time friends, having grown up together in the Yorkshire village of Driffield and in the club's youth teams. Woodhouse, the elder by 13 days, is a busy and perceptive midfielder; Morris, the son of former Blades and Blackpool winger Colin, is a forward. Together with Paul Devlin and the Brazilian Marcelo they destroyed a Watford side which had begun the day in sixth place, six points ahead of Sheffield.

Morris, previously played as a winger, was outstanding as a roving forward playing off Marcelo. Quick-footed and quick-witted he showed why he will be playing, today, for England Under-18s against Spain in a Uefa tournament. In a further indication of the need to resolve - at all levels - the ridiculous congestion of club and international fixtures he may then be asked to play a part in Sheffield United's First Division match at Portsmouth tomorrow. Steve Bruce, United's manager, said he was reluctant to do so but added his team "desperately" needed Morris.

One suspects Bruce will rest Morris, but he has at least negotiated Woodhouse's release as part of the "deal" that sent Morris to Spain. While Morris has only recently come into the United first team Woodhouse has been in it all season and Bruce was even more loath to lose him. His performances against Arsenal in the FA Cup had underlined his promise and, though forced on Saturday to play in a wider role, he showed the same eye for a pass and pluck for a tackle as he had at Highbury.

Ideally both would play for England: such experiences are beneficial to young players. However, Bruce's priority has to be United's promotion attempt. They are now within three points of the play-off zone and, like a dozen teams in this tightest of divisions, approach the season's end with hope. "There are a lot of points to play for and it will go down to the wire," said Bruce.

He added: "Woodhouse has been terrific all season while Morris has his confidence back after suffering a bad ankle injury at the start of the season. He posed them problems all afternoon."

Watford have their own young players but the most promising, Gifton Noel- Williams, was absent with injury. Without him their attack relied upon Tommy Mooney. He caused problems, but failed to score from a series of good chances.

Had he taken either of the brace offered after 15 minutes Watford may have won, both sides having come to the game with dwindling confidence.

United then scored three goals in 13 minutes. A sweeping move, from left- back to right-wing, led to Morris cleverly laying the ball back for Devlin to score a heavily deflected first. Then Morris scored a fine individual goal, shooting in from a tight angle. The third, driven in by Ian Hamilton after Alec Chamberlain had fumbled a cross under pressure from Marcelo, settled the points.

Neither club are flush with cash for strengthening but could, in a tight division, find their way into the play-offs. But promotion would necessitate heavy investment to avoid being followed by an instant return. More likely is a Premiership raid for the likes of Woodhouse and Morris.

Goals: Devlin (38) 1-0; Morris (44) 2-0; Hamilton (50) 3-0.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly (Tracey, h-t); Derry, Sandford, Holdsworth, Quinn; Devlin, Ford (Twiss, 80), Hamilton, Woodhouse; Marcelo, Morris. Substitute not used: Jacobsen.

Watford (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Bazeley, Ward, Palmer, Robinson; Wright (Gibbs, 55), Hyde, Hazan (Iroha, 69), Kennedy; Smart (Smith, 55), Mooney.

Referee: R Pearson (Peterlee).

Bookings: United: Morris, Derry. Watford: Robinson.

Man of the match: Morris.

Attendance: 15,943.