Jack O'Connell: Sheffield United still sweating on key defender's progress despite receiving some good news

Sheffield United hope Jack O’Connell will be able to play an active role in their first pre-season under new manager Slavisa Jokanovic, although medical staff at the club are still loath to predict if the defender will be fit for the opening match of the new campaign.
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O’Connell has been absent since undergoing a knee operation in September, but was pictured taking part in an intensive workout with a personal trainer on United’s social media channels earlier this week.

The post was designed to allay fears the centre-half is facing another round of surgery after suffering a set-back in his rehabilitation earlier this year. However, as caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom stressed before making way for Jokanovic last week, O’Connell has not taken part in a full football based training session for the past nine months.

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With his absence recognised as a major factor behind United’s poor results last term, which saw them surrender their top-flight status after two years in the Premier League, Jokanovic is hoping O’Connell is granted permission to perform even a minor role in the warm-up fixtures Heckingbottom and de-facto director of football Jan van Winckel arranged before his appointment.

O’Connell’s attacking prowess made him a pivotal cog in the 3-5-2 system which saw United climb from the third to the first tier of the game under Wilder, before finishing ninth in the table two seasons ago.

With no like-for-like replacement available - something Rhys Norrington-Davies’ return from a loan period at Stoke City should address - United won only 10 of their 39 outings after it was decided he should go under the knife.

With Norrington-Davies set to represent Wales at this summer’s European Championships, despite being yet to make his senior debut for United, Jokanovic endorsed United’s contract offer to Kean Bryan on Tuesday.

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Previously of Manchester City, Bryan’s present deal is about to expire. But unlike Phil Jagielka, Simon Moore, Jack Rodwell and John Lundstram, who are all being released, he has been informed United want him to remain in South Yorkshire next term.

Bryan’s agent will shortly begin discussions about extending his client’s agreement, with a number of other Championship sides monitoring his situation closely.