Steve Evans has admitted he has felt rotten about not selecting Harrison Neal in recent weeks - but says the Sheffield United loanee is close to breaking through at Stevenage.

The 22-year-old has impressed the Boro boss in training and took his opportunity against Crystal Palace in the EFL Trophy, playing 45 minutes in centre-midfield and a second 45 at centre-back, excelling at both.

Evans says not picking him in recent weeks has left him really down.

He said: "I think when Harrison came in, he perhaps took how we wanted him to play too literally. 

"We say we play forward, we're on the front foot, and he took it too literally. 

"I've spent lots of time talking to Harrison and the coaches have spent lots of time working with him and after watching him in training every day for two or three weeks, I've almost cried when it comes to Friday and I’m picking the team and he’s not in the 18. 

"He's been one of our best in training but our midfield players have been good in the main so it's made it more difficult for him. 

"We told him [against Palace] to get on the ball and pass it and I think he controlled the midfield in the first half, he controlled all the play. 

"I had a look at him at centre-half in a game recently at the training ground and he did very well so this was an opportunity to give Terence Vancooten 45 minutes, which we felt he needed, and allow Harrison to go to centre-back. 

"He’ll be a player for sure."

That half-time substitution saw Louis Thompson come on an Evans says becoming a dad has been the reason for his stop-start appearances recently.

The boss said: "Louis been missing after he's had a baby. 

"This football club is a baby factory, I'm giving them too much time off. 

"You’ve got Harry Anderson’s baby, you’ve got Jake Forster-Caskey's baby and now you’ve got Thompson’s baby. 

"But as a management team, we’re more mature now and more about the welfare of the players. 

"We made sure that Louis had enough time to look after his young lady at home and look after his new baby, and it was the same with Jake and Harry."