Sam Bell could be one of the players that Nigel Pearson was hinting at when making changes to his Bristol City side this weekend.
The Robins face Swansea City at Ashton Gate and are in search of a response after a 2-0 defeat to Reading. It was a frustrating day in front of goal with no shots on target from five attempts.
City’s preparations for the visit of Russell Martin’s side have been impacted by illness and injury with two confirmed absences and three touch-and-goes. Kal Naismith and Tomas Kalas are out with calf injuries but flu-like symptoms have affected three players this week.
Earlier in the week, the 59-year-old hinted that he may call upon some of City’s Under-21’s players to fill out the squad. Several players have been called up to allow for 11-v-11 matches and some may have played into his plans.
Unprompted, Pearson spoke highly of academy product Sam Bell, who has found himself out in the cold of the senior team. The 20-year-old has watched on as teammate Tommy Conway claimed a place and went on a scoring run, but the son of Robins legend Mickey Bell, has kept his head down and now finds himself in contention.
Pearson said: “We have someone like Sam Bell who is pushing his way forward now because of his form in the Under-21’s and he looks in real good physical and mental condition. It is a big plus for us too. We’ve got some rather good options in the forward positions.”
Since the start of September, Bell has netted six goals for the Under-21’s, including braces against Welsh sides Cardiff City and Swansea City. His experience of scoring against Swansea’s youngsters could now give him an opportunity against their first-team.
Pearson added: “Whether that will be Chris Martin and his physical presence and his workrate. Nahki, Tommy and Antoine, there are some exciting players in there.
“You will have to wait and see what the selection looks like for the weekend so then you will have a better picture. I am a big believer in the options we have in forward positions that any of them can play together.”
A substitute appearance against Coventry City in the Carabao Cup in August is the only outing he has had this season. He had been tried as a wing-back last season with mixed success. His lack of game time for the seniors had prompted talk of a loan move but Pearson sought that the best decision was to keep him at the club.
Bell’s teammates Raphael Araoye, Joe Low and Jamie Knight-Lebel, as well as Omar Taylor-Clarke have been drafted into the training squad in the absence of three first-team players.
Araoye signed a three-year deal in August and had a stint in the first-team in pre-season. All four players however have not made a competitive bout for the team as of yet. Low, captain of the Under-21’s is the oldest of the quartet at 20 whilst Knight-Lebel is only 17-years-old.
Through Brian Tinnion’s hard work to source young players, there has been an obvious platform to the senior team. For the youngsters that could find themselves in contention, the manager has admitted there is not a one-fits-all approach when dealing with young players who may be overwhelmed ahead of a competitive debut.
“It’s a judgement call that there is no rule book on it,” Pearson admitted when asked about managing youngsters who could be overwhelmed with an opportunity.
“It’s about getting the balance right and understanding what the players are about. Some players need a bit of detail and a bit of understanding of where they fit in it. I’ve also seen in the past where players have been unable to perform because there is too much external pressure.
“No one rule fits all if you like but we will see. The three players who have been ill this week are back in today and done some training. It’s too early to make a call on them but we’ll see how it looks.”