Sheffield United boss outlines plan for young loan players as Zak Brunt interests Notts County after Southend United spell

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Zak Brunt, the Sheffield United midfielder, could be on the move again this January after promotion-chasing Notts County expressed their interest in taking him on loan to boost their National League play-off hopes.

The highly-rated young Blades midfielder has just completed a three-month loan stint at Southend United, which ended at the turn of the year.

The Shrimpers are desperate to retain the services of Brunt and his United teammate Kacper Lopata, who also agreed a temporary switch to the south coast earlier this year.

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But while Lopata’s situation could be complicated by United’s lack of cover at centre-half, Paul Heckingbottom’s men are more well-stocked in midfield – meaning Brunt could stay out on loan for the rest of the season.

The Shrimpers hope that will be at Roots Hall, after some impressive displays from Brunt this season despite their struggles as a team.

But County, according to reports on the south coast, are also thought to be interested as they look to consolidate their promotion push in the second half of the season.

Manager Heckingbottom spoke about Brunt and Lopata’s immediate future at his press conference last week, just hours before the Blades’ New Year’s Day clash with Middlesbrough was postponed because of a number of positive Covid-19 tests in the Boro camp.

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Sheffield United's Zak Brunt has been on loan at Southend along with teammate Kacper Lopata: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United's Zak Brunt has been on loan at Southend along with teammate Kacper Lopata: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United's Zak Brunt has been on loan at Southend along with teammate Kacper Lopata: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“Covid is a big part of it,” Heckingbottom said of his thoughts about his players out on loan.

“We have had those conversations with myself and down through the academy with the younger players. Where we have good cover, we are happy for that player to try and get a league loan.

“Where we haven't got good cover and we might need to call that player back at any point, they will remain on youth loans because we can bring them back.

“If we use Zak and Kacper for example... If they stayed out at Southend, the fact they have already been there a while means that, as soon as they re-sign on a youth loan, it's just a 24-hour recall.

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“But I wouldn't call them back just to be on our bench and take games away from them. It will only be if they are needed.

“But it does give us that security because it's so strange. We experienced it last season, how quickly things can change within your squad, and we need to make sure we have as much cover.

“Of course we want our players out playing and developing their careers, but we can't do that at the expense of us and the rest of our players. If we can get that balance right of players experiencing first team football but being available to us, if and when they are needed, then that would be perfect.”

Speaking to the local Southend media before his loan spell expired, Brunt admitted he was unsure of what the future held.

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"I need to speak to the gaffer here and Sheff U and see what’s going on for me," he said.

“My goal is to play for Sheffield United. "We’ll talk about the next step and if that’s staying at Southend United, then I’d be more than happy to do so.

"But if it’s going somewhere else or going back to Sheff U, that will have to be the case. So we’ll see."

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