Carlisle United's director of football said it was right to take a chance on a youth player who has “a bit of naughtiness about him”.

Midfielder Keelan Leslie is one of just two players from this season’s academy second-years to be offered a pro deal.

While winger Lewis Bell’s contract was tabled months ago, Leslie was offered six-month terms by the Blues this week.

His fellow second-years are being released but DOF David Holdsworth said 17-year-old Leslie deserves a chance to make the grade.

“The decision ultimately comes with the Academy manager and the 18s manager, and they’re tough conversations,” Holdsworth said.

“In the last few months I’ve seen Keelan, and you do get those situations that arise.

“I’ve spoken to Eric [Kinder, academy manager], and I think the boy’s got a good nature. He’s a good kid. I want him to be hungry, to come in and step up.

“If he thinks he’s made it, he’ll get what he deserves – you can’t come in thinking football owes you a favour. You have to have that hunger and desire.

“I think the boy’s got it.”

Holdsworth said the length of Leslie’s deal gives him a chance to impress in Chris Beech’s first-team set-up and earn a longer pro deal.

He said: “I felt it was imperative we have a bit more of a look at him. He might grow, he might go up two inches, who knows.

“He’s got a little bit of naughtiness about him, a bit of hunger in his belly and I like that.

“I would rather us take the opportunity to say to him, ‘Come on, roll your sleeves up, do a proper pre-season with the manager and the staff, that’s different from playing youth football, and we might see it’.

“I hope we do, and then he’ll get rewarded with a further six months and maybe longer. I don’t want to lose somebody and then regret it.”

While decisions have been made on this season’s youth graduates, Holdsworth admits things have not gone to plan for last summer’s.

Five Blues youngsters stepped into the professional ranks but none has figured in the first-team reckoning.

Loan moves to Kendal for Charlie Birch, Charlie Barnes, Liam Lightfoot and Jamie Armstrong had to be cut short because of non-league’s enforced Covid-19 shutdown.

Tom Wilson is also in the United ranks but, other than occasional reserve outings, competitive action has been hard to come by for all the teenagers.

Holdsworth said: “It’s been tough.

“Last year we had a plan for five young pros to develop, to be given private sessions through our academy and our staff, and it hasn’t been able to come to fruition because of the situation we found ourselves in with Covid.

“They all went on loan, did really well, you could see the smile on their faces, and then football was blown out of the water.

“It’s heartbreaking, I feel for them, they haven’t had the amount of time on the grass, the time to develop in those one to one sessions.”

As for this season’s second-years who are being let go by the Blues at the end of the season - Elliott Day, Isaac Robinson, Lewis Rooks, Roan Steele, Ryan Swailes and Adam Walton – Holdsworth said it had been a difficult day when the youngsters were informed.

“I feel for those lads,” he said. “Last week was horrible.

“I’m the proud father of four wonderful children and for someone to say to a young boy who’s desperate to get a career, ‘Unfortunately we can’t retain you, but will support you’…it knocked me.

“I know Eric finds that hard and he’s been in the game long enough and knows how difficult it is.

“I didn’t enjoy it. We were quiet afterwards because you’re dealing with people’s futures.

“They’re great kids. I told them I will support them as much as I can going forward. They’re wonderful boys.

“It is a business, that’s the reality of the life we lead unfortunately.”

Holdsworth also commented on the difficulty in securing more regular reserve action for those young players on the fringes at Brunton Park.

He said: "We haven’t got the time to play football anywhere else because no-one’s playing. I would love to have seen those boys flourish this year.

"It’s been very difficult. [Coaches] Gavin Skelton and Mark Birch have tried and tried to get as many games and opportunities as possible, but when other clubs have shut down, what can we do?

"We’ve got our pre-season games coming up and we’re looking at those, trying to do those operating in a time when clubs are open but we still don’t fully understand where we will be.

"We’ve got a Plan A, B and perhaps C trying to operate in an environment that’s half closed down still."