Billy Paynter is frustrated but philosophical about his lack of first-team opportunities at Bramall Lane.
The former Port Vale and Swindon Town centre-forward joined Sheffield United on loan from Doncaster Rovers earlier this term hoping to become a permanent member of Nigel Clough’s starting eleven.
However circumstances, including Jose Baxter’s success as a ‘false nine’ and the League One club’s march into the FA Cup semi-finals, have conspired to ensure Paynter has spent the majority of his time either cajoling from the sidelines or sitting on the bench.
“I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want to play more,” he told The Star last night. “I think any professional footballer in my position would say exactly the same.
“But, on the back of all of that, it’s not as if I can knock on the manager’s door because the rest of the lads have done so, so well. I’m itching to get involved but I can understand why I’ve not been much.
“Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m loving my time here because the spirit behind the scenes is great. I think recent results definitely reflect that.
“So, if I’m not out there on the pitch or on the team sheet, then I try and encourage them as much as I can. And I’m absolutely made-up for them after a victory, I really am.”
Tonight’s match at Vale Park will be a poignant occasion for Paynter who was ineligible for selection when Clough’s squad gave Hull City an almighty scare at Wembley 12 days ago.
After graduating from Vale’s youth system 13 years ago, he made 158 appearances and was voted the Staffordshire club’s player of the season before completing a transfer to Hull City in 2006.
Paynter’s experiences in Staffordshire - the Liverpudlian took an unconventional route into Brian Horton’s first team - explain why he will prepare for this evening’s fixture properly irrespective of Clough’s plans.