HAVING spent over two decades grooming aspiring young footballers at Manchester City, Steve Eyre is not easily impressed.
But the Rochdale manager, who swapped the luxurious surroundings of the Etihad Stadium for Spotland’s more rustic charms earlier this year, likened Ched Evans to one of the modern game’s greats after watching him set Sheffield United on the path to victory with another ferocious display.
Evans’ career might not have progressed at the same rate as, say, Daniel Sturridge or Shaun Wright-Phillips.
In League One, however, he is simply proving too hot for the majority of defences to handle.
The sight of Evans taking his record for the season to 13 in only 16 appearances with a well-taken brace conjured images of Alan Shearer in Eyre’s erudite mind while Danny Wilson, whose encouragement has enabled the Wales international to fulfil the potential which once earned him a place at City’s prestigious academy, insisted: “He’s arguably the best striker in the division. Definitely the best at this moment in time anyway.
“Ched has spent a long time listening to people saying he can’t do this and he can’t do that.
“Well, I think he’s proving them all wrong now isn’t he.
“I’m delighted for the lad because he’s worked so hard behind the scenes and he’ll have to carry on doing that if he wants to keep on getting the rewards.
“When he gets a chance now everyone expects him to take it and he’s in the same frame of mind as well.
“But, the key is, he’s not disappointed when he doesn’t and we don’t want him to be.
“Just to focus on the getting the next one or even the one after that.
“Ched won’t be short of praise and quite rightly so.
“But he’s a very humble person too and he knows that he’s getting lots of chances not only because of the effort he’s putting in but also that being shown by others.”
Indeed, Richard Cresswell was responsible for the afternoon’s most important contribution by placing Rochdale goalkeeper David Lucas in the recovery position following a sickening clash of heads moments before the interval.
Cresswell, who later caressed the ball beyond Lucas’ replacement, Matty Edwards, to put United firmly in control, leapt to the aid of his fellow professional after spotting him prostrate on the turf.
The first aid administered by the United centre-forward and also both club’s medical staff meant Lucas, who was knocked unconscious as he came to collect an in swinging free-kick, was later able to return to Bramall Lane after being given the all-clear at a nearby hospital.
“David is a brave lad and I’m delighted he seems okay,” said Wilson. “He’ll have had family here and it must have been terrible for them looking down to see him getting taken off on a stretcher with his eyes closed.”
Lucas’ heroics meant United, who remain fifth in the table, had to wait until the 39th minute before taking the lead with Stephen Quinn and Evans, who broke the deadlock following a slip by Rochdale’s Stephen Jordan, both frustrated by his razor-sharp reactions.
Nevertheless, United goalkeeper Steve Simonsen also produced a wonderful close-range block to thwart Nicky Adams after the impressive David Ball had engineered an opening.
“With the score at 0-0 that was a key moment,” Wilson said. “People can forget things like that but we owe Simmo for it.”
A delightful exchange involving Quinn and Lecsinel Jean-Francois, preferred to the on-loan Marcus Williams, enabled Cresswell to double United’s lead soon after the re-start, with Evans thundering home a 25 yard free-kick to complete the rout.
“I worked with
Ched (at City) a lot and I’m very fond of him,” Eyre said graciously. “He’s the nearest thing I’ve seen to Shearer in a long time.
“Ched is young, dynamic and he doesn’t just hold his position well, he makes sure he brings others into play too.
“Overall his approach is really positive and, of course, his finishing is excellent.”