Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is adamant Ched Evans will become a major player at Bramall Lane this season, as the centre-forward prepares to make his comeback from injury.
Evans, the former Wales international, has not featured since September after undergoing surgery to cure an ankle complaint.
But with the 29-year-old understood to be on the verge of completing his rehabilitation, Wilder said: “Ched has got a big role between now, May and beyond them. I’m absolutely sure about that. We all know what he can do and what he’s capable of out there on the football pitch. It’ll be great to see him available again.”
Wilder’s faith in Evans’ talents has remained undiminished despite the striker’s recent fitness issues. Having scored 48 goals in only 86 starts during his first spell at the club, Evans returned to Bramall Lane last summer following an 11 month stay at Chesterfield.
Although Wilder is determined not to increase the pressure on the player’s shoulders, Leon Clarke also endured a similarly difficult start to his United career after arriving from Bury at the beginning of last term. Like Evans, he was also instructed to undergo surgery after a damaged ankle hampered his progress.
Having recovered, Clarke was on target six times in as many outings as United were confirmed as League One champions and finished the campaign on 100 points. Clarke enters this afternoon’s visit to Derby County searching for his 15th goal since August.
“Fair play to Ched, he stuck his hand up to play when we were struggling for numbers,” Wilder continued. “That, in my eyes at least, tells you how desperate he is to help this club out and everything you need to know about him as a bloke.
“But he wasn’t able to do himself justice, you could see that, so it needed sorting-out properly. The op went well and that means he can kick-on properly.”
United have refused to comment, both publicly and privately, on the factors which contributed to Evans’ condition. However, there is a school of thought it traces back to a course of treatment he was prescribed before rejoining United in May. A shoulder injury, sustained during pre-season, is likely to have compounded the issue.
“Ched has been working really hard on the training ground,” Wilder, whose side are sixth in the table, said. “He’s been doing everything he can to get back as quickly as possible but it’s important to make sure, that when he does, he’s right.”
Clarke’s displays, combined with the performances of Clayton Donaldson and Billy Sharp, have eased the pressure on Wilder to rush Evans back into action. Despite being unlikely to feature in the team which faces second-placed County, he could feature when United visit Ipswich Town in the third round of the FA Cup this weekend. Youngster Regan Slater will also come under consideration at Portman Road.
“It’s a busy period and we have to manage what we’ve got as best we can,” Wilder said.