Niall Heaton, the young defender with the booming throw-in, has been urged to hurl himself into the City senior ranks next term.

Heaton, who turns 18 before pre-season, follows Oliver McBurnie into Phil Parkinson’s squad after signing a one-year deal.

Youth team boss Steve Thornber first played him as a left back to use the Pudsey-born youngster’s prodigious throw but he will join the professional set-up as a centre half.

Thornber said: “Left centre half is his best position but he is a utility player. Niall’s a bit like Carl McHugh – and might well take his place if he doesn’t sign.

“But he’s always had that fantastic long throw. If he progresses next year and does play in the first team, putting that on (James) Hanson’s head would be good.”

Heaton is in his second spell with City after leaving to join Liverpool in March 2011 as a 14-year-old. He went on to make 16 appearances for their under-18s before being released last summer to return to Valley Parade.

Thornber said: “We’ve got a good working relationship with Liverpool through the Andre Wisdom deal and things like that.

“The clubs liaised about trying to get some of the Andre money paid up front and it just came up in conversation about how Niall was doing.

“He had other players from different countries who were ahead of him and they decided at the end of his first year that he wasn’t going to be a Premier League player. So we agreed for him to come back and we took over the second year of his scholarship.

“He had been out injured at Liverpool and his fitness was a bit short. He struggled last pre-season but got stronger as the year progressed.”

Heaton’s improvement in form coincided with a switch back to the middle of defence, where he caught Parkinson’s eye in a reserve friendly at Leeds up against Republic of Ireland international Noel Hunt.

Thornber said: “Niall had played in the reserves at Sheffield Wednesday halfway through the season as a left back and struggled a bit on the ball.

“I knew if we were going to keep him playing there, it wouldn’t have done his confidence any good. Moving forward, the best thing would be to put him at centre half.

“He played a couple of matches there and was outstanding against Leeds. He marked a couple of their first-team players out of the game and I know the manager was impressed with that.

“It was just a pity he did his ankle, which kept him out for three weeks at the same time as a couple in the first team picked up injuries. Losing the likes of Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle could have given him a chance but he was injured.

“It’s a big step coming into the first-team environment from the youth team. The tempo is a lot quicker so your fitness needs to be right.

“Niall has got the strength and size and this is a big opportunity for him.”