Sheffield United could learn whether John Brayford, the former Cardiff City and Derby County defender, will miss the start of next season within 24 hours, writes James Shield.
Brayford was scheduled to undergo further tests on his injured knee last night after being forced to watch the conclusion of their League One play-off semi-final against Swindon Town from the stands.
Nigel Clough’s side bowed out of the competition in dramatic fashion following a 5-5 draw at the County Ground and the manager’s misery was compounded by confirmation the damage his marquee January signing sustained during United’s narrow first-leg defeat is more serious than initially feared.
Depending upon the exact diagnosis, Brayford could be facing between six to 12 months in the treatment room.
“We’ll know more this week,” Clough told The Star. “He’s going to see someone when we’re back. We’ll know more about what we’re looking at then.
“It could be six months, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s as serious as that.
“We’re devastated about the result, of course, and devastated about John too.”
Clough acknowledged last week’s 2-1 reverse at Bramall Lane had “ultimately cost” United a place in May 24th’s divisional showpiece at Wembley during the immediate aftermath of Monday’s visit to Wiltshire.
Citing Brayford’s absence as a major factor behind his team’s failure to gain promotion, Clough added: “If you lose your best player then you have less chance of winning the game. Whatever the result on Thursday night, that was a bigger blow.
“I’d rather go into the second-leg with a two goal deficit and have John Brayford in the team. We wouldn’t have conceded five with him in there.
“I think we’d have scored five. We definitely wouldn’t have let five in.”
United found themselves trailing 3-0 after only 18 minutes of the highest scoring contest in play-off history before late strikes from Matt Done and Che Adams, following earlier efforts by Jamie Murphy, Chris Basham and Steven Davies, threatened to send the tie into extra-time.
“It was bizarre from very early on,” Clough said. “We had three chances, they had three chances. They took three, we took one. It could have been 3-3 but it was 3-1.
“We knew we had enough to create and score goals. We scored six and could have scored a lot more but, ultimately, Thursday night cost us.”