Key Sheffield United five's injury status clarified as boss hopes for "final push" boost
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Max Lowe (side), Oli McBurnie (ankle), Ben Osborn (hamstring), John Fleck (leg) and Ciaran Clark (hamstring) have all missed varying amounts of game-time in recent weeks, with Heckingbottom hopeful to have at least two of those back for this weekend's clash with Stoke City at Bramall Lane.
McBurnie has only briefly been seen since the World Cup break as United look to get him back up to full fitness after an ankle issue, while Lowe is closing in on a recovery from a side strain he picked up after making his return to the side following months on the sidelines.
"We’ll see,” said Heckingbottom when asked for an injury update on Lowe and McBurnie ahead of Stoke. “Lowey's been training and Ozzy's been training so they're the two who I know are, but Oli, we'll have to wait and see.
"He's been on the grass and working but I'm not willing to push him, risk him to have him on the bench I want him firing and ready and chomping at the bit to have a big impact on games.”
Fleck is still feeling the after-effects of a fractured leg he suffered earlier in the season, while Clark was withdrawn after feeling discomfort in his hamstring during the Blades’ last league game away at QPR.
“They're doing well,” Heckingbottom said of the pair. “It's been tough for Flecky. It was an injury we could do nothing about, it's a tackle and end up with a fracture which he came back from but it needed securing so we've done that.
"He'll try and play through anything but he obviously couldn't. So it's been tough with him but he's in the gym really attacking things and going for it and soon enough he'll be on the grass, doing the bit he enjoys. The running and getting the ball out. The harder he works now the closer he'll be to a first-team return once we get him back training.
“I've not spoke with Ciaran for a couple of days but by all accounts everyone is pleased where he is. So he’s progressing. We're not going to take any risks so until he's back training with us, I'm not thinking about it yet.”
Striker Rhian Brewster and defender Rhys Norrington-Davies are longer-term absentees, having been forced to go under the knife on hamstring issues they suffered away at West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City respectively.
"Yeah, definitely,” Heckingbottom said, when asked if the pair would play again this season. I'm hoping they come back at a real good time to help us with the final push and that's driving them on.
"Hopefully it won't be too long but it is what it is. There's so far to go and when you get on the grass, that's when things get taken day by day. They're chomping at the bit to get back on the grass as soon as possible.”