LIVERPOOL -- Roberto Martinez is ready to throw young defenders Tyias Browning and Luke Garbutt into the heat of Everton’s battle for Champions League football.
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Right-back Browning, 19, and left-back Garbutt, 20, have yet to make their club debuts, but both have been regulars on the bench in recent weeks.
Everton manager Martinez has been impressed with the way both players responded during time out on loan earlier this season.
Browning only played twice after joining Championship side Wigan on a month’s loan in January, but their manager Uwe Rosler said that he was impressed with the England under-19 international.
Garbutt, who has also played for England at youth level, was a regular during his four-month stint at League One club Colchester, which only ended when Everton recalled him as cover in late January after Bryan Oviedo broke his leg.
When he took charge at Goodison Park last June, Martinez made a pledge to bring through the club’s youngsters into the first team.
And he has given 20-year-old defender John Stones a run at centre-back over the last month during the recovery from a hamstring injury of captain Phil Jagielka, who is fit to return for Sunday’s Premier League trip to Fulham.
Martinez also has high hopes for three young players who went out loan on Thursday -- midfielder John Lundstram to Leyton Orient, defender Matthew Penington to Tranmere and forward Hallam Hope to Bury.
But it was Browning and Garbutt who are set to be the next two to break through.
“I think Tyias and Luke have shown that they are ready,” Martinez said.
“We think they are players who excel in the younger groups here. They went out on loan and they did really, really well.
“Luke Garbutt took his experience at Colchester really well. Tyias Browning had a different type of experience; it was about just getting away from Finch Farm.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop over the next couple of weeks, but they will have an opportunity.
“Underneath them, there’s another generation with a lot of talent. Those players are going to be very important for the future, especially in preseason.
“I think Tyias and Luke will have a great opportunity between now and the end of the campaign, and there are probably another six players who will have a chance in preseason.
“It’s important that, as a football club, we give our players a clear path to first-team opportunities.
“Clearly, Tyias and Luke are the ones who are ready for first-team exposure.”
Despite his willingness to give youth a chance, Martinez will look to strengthen his squad this summer, with a move to bring former Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell back from Manchester City among his priorities.
The Toffees are in a strong position to qualify for the Europa League, lying fifth in the Premier League with eight games to play as they prepare to visit Fulham.
And they could yet secure a Champions League place, as they currently lie sixth points behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand.
Martinez has indicated that he needs 27 outfield players in his squad to sustain a domestic and European challenge.
Including his three loanees, the manager currently has 20 outfield players at the club who have figured in the Premier League this season, of which Tony Hibbert and Darron Gibson have made just one substitute appearance each.
Martinez said: “If you are playing away from home in Europe on a Thursday and then in the league at the weekend, you need to use different players. You do need a bigger squad.
“Depending on the age of the group, it could be between 26 and 28 outfield players. That’s a big difference, but it’s not something that’s the focus now.
“The focus is on the next eight games and making sure we get as many points as we can, because it would be a dream to get involved in Europe next season.”
Martinez has also indicated that a planned expansion of Everton’s training ground should be fully sketched out over the next month.
The manager wants further facilities to allow players to stay overnight in preparation for matches.
He said: “At the moment, the training ground plans are still on the drawing board, and we need to make sure that over the next four to five weeks, we get that final sketch of what we want.”