LIAM Slade wants to prove he is ready to start for Burton Albion after emerging from his baptism of fire with considerable credit.
The 18-year-old defender made his debut in football as a 19th-minute substitute in the Brewers’ 3-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday after the early sending-off of Marcus Holness.
And although the Albion back-line was breached three times during the following 71 minutes, Slade did himself proud and did not look out of place, making a number of clearing headers alongside the experienced Zander Diamond.
Holness now faces a ban, while Ian Sharps still has a match remaining of his own suspension, and with Phil Edwards likely to be needed at right-back in the continued injury absence of Rory Delap, Slade could well make his first start against Scunthorpe United this weekend.
On his rapid rise from promising youngster and fifth-choice centre-half to his professional debut, Slade said: “It’s the step up to the big leagues now and hopefully I can prove a point.
“I was here when I was 15, signed my scholarship and then after two years I was told I was getting a pro contract.
“I just need to keep working hard in training and prove to the gaffer that I’m ready for it.
“Hopefully I can push for a start.”
Birmingham-born Slade would probably not have expected to have been called on at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, but revealed that he was not as apprehensive as he had expected to be when boss Gary Rowett turned to him in Albion’s hour of need.
He said: “I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous than I was, coming on in front of a big crowd.
“I’ve never played in front of a crowd before but it was fine.
“I was looking forward to it, ready to go and ready to prove a point.
“I wanted to show that I was ready to start in the team.
“I’m happy with what I did and I think that overall, the performance wasn’t too bad – I was pleased with some parts of my game.
“Being down to 10 men, it very hard for me as it put even more pressure on me to come on and do a job.
“But it was enjoyable.”
Against the Dons, Burton actually took the lead after Holness’ red card through a well-worked corner routine that saw Adam McGurk net his second of the season.
But three second-half goals mean Albion have now lost three games in a row for the first time in more than a year after a promising start to the season.
Slade said: “We’re very disappointed.
“It was difficult for us when we went down to 10 men to be honest – the red card killed us off completely.
“It needed a lot of hard work throughout the team and made it harder than it was already.
“We went up and scored, which gave us a boost.
“But then in the second half they’ve come out on fire and we just weren’t ready for it.”
Holness was given his marching orders for an off-the-ball incident with the Dons’ Sammy Moore which was seen by the assistant referee, but not many of the crowd or even the Football League Show.
Slade said: “I was watching the game and then I looked back and everyone was crowded round a player on the floor.
“I didn’t quite see what happened but it was silly to react like that.
“Everyone’s saying it was a push on the chest, but whether it was or not we’ll never know unless we’ve got video footage.
“It was just stupid to be honest.”
Although the game had been even up until that point, it was always going to be a difficult job with 10 men, and although Albion got the opening goal and looked as though they might pull off an unlikely result, they failed to retain their focus or the ball in the final 50 minutes.
Slade said: “At half-time, the gaffer just told us to keep doing what we were doing.
“We’d worked hard in the first half and got in their faces, and we needed to keep doing that in the second half.
“I thought once we got that goal, we were back in the game.
“We created chances and forced it in the final third but in the end it’s a disappointing result.”