Paul Coutts took the latest step in his recovery from a broken leg yesterday, when he captained Sheffield United's U23s in a 2-1 victory over Charlton at Shirecliffe.
The Scottish midfielder broke his tibia after being caught by a poor challenge by Burton’s Marvin Sordell at the Pirelli Stadium last November, an injury which ended his season and dealt a huge blow to United’s chances of a second successive promotion.
Coutts played in Matt Roney’s testimonial at Sheffield FC last week, and followed that up with 70 minutes against Charlton as Jordan Hallam and Harry Boyes sealed victory for the Blades’ U23s. Our man Danny Hall was there to watch him.
Coutts showed exactly what United have missed.
It’s maybe not as vital now they have signed Oli Norwood, but in his performance against Charlton Coutts showed exactly what United missed during the latter half of last season. The stage was obviously different and the pace not quite up to speed with the Championship, but Coutts did what he does best… slowed the tempo of the game down when required, and gave United a bit more attacking bite when neccessary.
Men against boys
It’s often the case in 23s games but Taylor Maloney was given a masterclass in midfield by Coutts, the Charlton man resorting to petty and cynical fouls as the frustration took over. Coutts kept it simple, taking the ball from centre-halves Martin Cranie and George Cantrill, and ran the game in midfield, taking the longer option to full-backs George Baldock and Jake Bennett when the situation demanded.
Fitness looked fine
Coutts reported no after-effects when he was eventually withdrawn, on the 70-minute mark, and would have no doubt played the full 90 if he was given the option. His role, as the deep-lying midfielder, may not be the most physically demanding on the pitch but the Scot was energetic and got around the field well on a fairly warm day at Shirecliffe.
Tackles? No problem
Worried about Coutts mentally, maybe pulling out of tackles for fear of getting injured again? Worry not, on this showing at least. He snapped into challenges without a moment’s hesitation, and bounced back from a few poor tackles from Charlton players without any issues. It’s little surprise, really, since X-rays showed his leg is actually stronger than it was before the injury.
Ahead of schedule?
Maybe not – Chris Wilder always said it’d be the end of this month before Coutts was knocking on the door of the first team – but it was interesting that the midfielder played over an hour of Roney’s testimonal last Tuesday, and 70 minutes in this game. Granted, the testimonial against Sheffield FC wasn’t the most physically exerting but Wilder told the media recently that Coutts would gradually up his minutes, from 30 to 60 to 75. The fact he seems to have skipped straight to the latter part of that plan bodes well for the Blades.
If it were up to him…
He’d be available for the first team now. In fact, the man himself reckons he’s been ready for a month or so. But sensibly, United are going through the process with one of their most important players and won’t rush him back, only to see a possible setback keep him out of action for a bit longer. The player himself probably understands that, too, and the majority of fans. After all…
We’ve got Oli Norwood…
...and he is, erm, reight good, according to the new terrace chant (which has had to be adapted slightly for this newspaper). Only time will tell if Norwood becomes as influential a player for United as Coutts, but the early stages of his Bramall Lane career all point that way. And a midfield three of Coutts, Norwood and John Fleck is up there, if not better, with most in the division.
Certainly not many midfielders will fancy the task of getting the ball off that three, and Norwood’s signing has perhaps taken the pressure off Coutts to return as quickly as possible. When he does, he can take that extra time to be bang up to speed, rather than doing so in the first team, and United can only benefit.