Paul Coutts edged closer to a return to Sheffield United's first team this afternoon when he played 90 minutes for the first time since breaking his leg last November.
Coutts, who suffered the horror injury at Burton Albion last season, captained United's U23s to a 2-2 draw against Nottingham Forest’s youngsters at Stocksbridge Park Steels’ Bracken Moor home.
The result, a spirited fightback from 2-0 down, may not have a huge bearing on United’s season, but the sight of Coutts clearing a significant hurdle in his rehabilitation will be a significant boost to United's players, fans and coaching staff.
And, in all likelihood, the player himself. Coutts played over an hour in Matt Roney’s testimonial at Sheffield FC and followed that up with 70 minutes in midweek in the U23s against Charlton.
Blades boss Chris Wilder and his staff must now decide when to reintroduce Coutts to the first-team fold – although another outing for the U23s, at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough on Friday evening, could be their preferred option for the influential midfielder.
Coutts captained United on a mild afternoon high up on one of Sheffield’s seven hills, but was unable to prevent them going two goals behind at half-time. United, wearing their away kit as Forest's white away strip would have clashed with their home shirts, struggled to contain a very lively Forest side who signalled their intent from the first whistle and had a decent appeal for a penalty waved away when George Cantrill pulled back Arvin Appiah.
The visitors had the ball in United's net when Anel Ahmedhodzic followed up Jake Eastwood's save from Toby Edser’s free-kick, but the defender was ruled offside, before the visitors did go ahead moments later when, from Edser's excellent pass, Virgil Gomis made no mistake.
Their lead became two six minutes later when Martin Cranie, who also played 90 minutes, was caught out by a quick move and Brennan Johnson finished well.
But United improved after the break and after Jordan Greaves and Jake Bennett went close, they reduced the arrears when substitute Simeon Oure stepped over Bennett’s cross and Daniel Lafferty toe-poked home.
Jordan Hallam’s well-struck shot then levelled the scores, and United were indebted to a fine save by Eastwood from Edser’s free-kick to protect the point before Forest's Appiah, with the last touch of the game, blasted the ball into a garden behind Eastwood’s net.
Blades: Eastwood, Cranie, Cantrill (Sheppeard 54), Coutts, Doherty, York, Bennett, Greaves, Parkhouse (Oure 67), Hallam, Lafferty. Unused: Amissah, Gordon, Boyes.
Forest: Bossin, Richardson, Preston, Coveney, Ahmedhodzic, Stewart, Appiah, Johnson Taylor), Gomis, Edser, En-Neyah (Megaritis, 60). Unused: Wright, Hefele, Panagou.