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Young guns have to earn a Walsall opportunity

Sport | Published:

Jon Whitney will only blood his Saddlers starlets in the final three games of the season if they deserve it.

Walsall are heading for a mid-table finish whatever the outcome of their remaining fixtures, leading to calls for the club's youngsters to be featured more heavily.

Mitch Candlin and Tobias Hayles-Docherty were unused substitutes for the 1-0 victory over Swindon Town on Easter Monday, but Whitney has not ruled out giving them a chance.

"You'll play in my team if you deserve to," said the boss. "I see things off the pitch, I see them every day in training, how they are and their work ethic.

"People will get their rewards. If they deserve to come on, then I will give them a chance in my squad.

"But I have to also understand that even being on the bench and coming and doing the preps might be enough for now.

"I have to gradually build them up and ask for the fans to trust me and ask for the board and directors to trust me as well.

"I will play players when they deserve to play and I can't promise anything over the last three games because you can't really change that team.

"If you were playing, would you want to be left out of that team? I would say, probably no. There might be opportunities but we can't say right now."

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And Whitney admitted the early return of Erhun Oztumer from injury may have denied one of his young guns a late cameo.

The Turkish wizard has missed a month of action since limping off against Southend, but returned as a 72nd-minute substitute for Andreas Makris on Monday.

"I wouldn't say we rushed him back but he's probably a week or two away from getting his fitness levels back," said Whitney. "But we knew that in the last 30 minutes we haven't been keeping the ball very well.

"We knew Isaiah Osbourne would tire so we knew Erhun and George would come on and they would just keep it.

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"I would have liked to get one of the young ones on but we have to also understand that Swindon are big from set-pieces.

"They have a lot of big lads so we would have been short on set-pieces. We had to weigh that up in reference to our subs and it was a good 1-0 win.

"Other than that, I might have given Tobias (Hayles-Docherty) his debut but there's three games to go so let's see."

Meanwhile, Whitney was delighted for Joe Edwards to score the Saddlers' winner in the victory over Swindon.

The versatile 26-year-old former Colchester and Yeovil player has made 45 appearances this season, with his Easter Monday strike being his third of the campaign.

"He's well respected by the group and well respected by me," said Whitney. "He does anything you ask of him and one thing's for sure, he will take that goal for the team and that's what makes him a player. I want my players, and I said it in a meeting with them, to play for the team.

"If you're not playing for the team, then you won't play in my team."

And Whitney also had praise for 21-year-old striker Amadou Bakayoko and 24-year-old goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray.

"I thought Amadou was excellent against Swindon," he said. "I thought he showed what he can be as a player, stretching the line and playing to his strengths.

"Craig, again, was excellent."

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