“Massive concern” - Sheffield United investigating crisis that could hamper survival hopes
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Sheffield United are conducting an in-depth investigation into their remarkable injury record after two more players saw their participation in United’s next clash at Tottenham Hotspur threatened by fitness issues. George Baldock and Anel Ahmedhodzic have both missed action with their countries over the break with calf and hamstring issues respectively.
A succession of injuries threatened to derail United’s promotion campaign last season as almost every key player spent some time on the sidelines. The state of the pitches at Shirecliffe was blamed, with almost £2m spent relaying the main surface at the training ground to bring it up to the standard of Bramall Lane and hopefully alleviate the issue.
United’s walking wounded is in double figures already this season, although there was some rare positive fitness news earlier in the week when captain John Egan played 90 minutes for the Republic of Ireland less than a week after hobbling off against Everton having damaged his knee and ankle. Yasser Larouci also limped off in that game while Ahmedhodzic and Baldock’s own issues have since come to light over the international break.
United were forced to alter their transfer plans to bring in Luke Thomas on loan after injuries to Rhys Norrington-Davies, Max Lowe and Ben Osborn left Larouci as their only fit, senior left-wing back, while Rhian Brewster remains on the comeback trail after a serious hamstring issue last season. Norrington-Davies has missed almost a year with the hamstring issue that caused him to miss the World Cup in Qatar last winter, while Jayden Bogle, Ismaila Coulibaly, Oli McBurnie and Anis Slimane have seen their early-season momentum disrupted by injury.
Speaking before the international break, boss Paul Heckingbottom described United’s injury record as a “massive concern”, admitting it has “hindered” his side and often caused him to have to “compromise” how United train and play. There has been an element of misfortune, including Lowe going under the knife after damaging ankle ligaments by standing on a sprinkler at his former club Derby in pre-season, but chief executive Stephen Bettis believes the issue runs deeper than simple bad luck.
“That’s a tough one,” he said when asked about United’s injury situation. “It’s something we’re continually discussing at the moment. It’s a real frustration for everyone. Just saying bad luck isn’t a good enough answer any more. There has been an element of that in some of the injuries - Max treading on a sprinkler at Derby - but there are a lot of soft tissue injuries that we’re looking at and going: ‘Why are these happening?’
“When we looked at it, we’ve had this for the last few seasons and when we looked at it there were periods where our promotion challenge could have been affected by injuries. We’re all aware of it and at the time a lot of it was attributed to the pitches at the training ground. And the fact that during the winter months they were difficult. But that’s gone away now. we’ve probably got one of the best surfaces in the Premier League.
“We basically have a brand new Desso pitch there and no-one can really have any better than that. So you can’t use that as an excuse any more and we’ve got to look at the other areas and see what we’re doing wrong, if we are. That is something that’s now on the agenda to look at since the transfer window has closed.”