Sheffield United: Aston Villa midfielder's Conor Hourihane's chances of a permanent move to Bramall Lane have just increased

Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, is convinced Conor Hourihane’s tactical acumen will prove indispensable as the season progresses.

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 11:35 am

The Republic of Ireland international played under Heckingbottom at Barnsley, being handed the captain’s armband towards the end of the 44-year-old’s spell in charge of United’s neighbours.

After suffering a dramatic drop in form under Heckingbottom’s predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic, who was sacked by Bramall Lane’s board of directors last week, Hourihane impressed during Sunday’s win over Bristol City.

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Billy Sharp celebrates with Morgan Gibbs-White of Sheffield United and Conor Hourihane (right) during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, against Bristol City: Alistair Langham / Sportimage

With John Fleck set to be given more time to recover from the seizure he suffered at Reading last month, despite resuming work at United’s training complex ahead of tomorrow’s game against Cardiff City, Hourihane’s resurgence has proven particularly timely. With his contract at Aston Villa set to expire in May, Heckingbottom’s appointment also means the likelihood of winning a permanent transfer to United had also increased for the on-loan midfielder.

Noting how Hourihane was able to quickly forge a partnership with Oliver Norwood when Nigel Pearson’s side visited South Yorkshire five days ago, Heckingbottom said: “Conor dropped in really well with Ollie. That’s because he’s got a really good understanding of the game. If you give him a message, he gets it straight away.

“I want him to drive the games tactically. He’s very good at that. He can do that.”

Republic of Ireland international Conor Hourihane is on loan at Sheffield United from Premier League club Aston Villa: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Hourihane’s experience could be invaluable in the Welsh capital, where Heckingbottom has warned United to expect an aerial bombardment from one of the most physically imposing teams in the Championship. Moving forward, the knowledge he has acquired during a career which has also seen him represent Plymouth Argyle, Ipswich Town and City’s arch-rivals Swansea is expected to be factored into the decision about whether to recruit him on a permanent basis at the end of the campaign.

Although Heckingbottom would not be drawn on that when asked about United’s recruitment plans earlier this week, it would be a major surprise if he did not attempt to retain Hourihane’s services given their previous relationship.

“Conor is a quality player, we know what he can do,” Heckingbottom said. “He’s shown that here too and he’s got that understanding you want to see in people. But it’s about the group, not individuals.”