Sheffield United: Big game advice from a Champions League star still resonate with midfielder

“If I told you what it was about then you’ll just make a headline out of it,” Conor Hourihane says, recalling a conversation with five time Premier League champion John Terry during their time at Aston Villa. “So I won’t.”

Friday, 6th May 2022, 3:12 pm

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The midfielder, now approaching the end of a loan spell with Sheffield United, might not quite grasp the purpose of a pre-match media conference. But he does boast an in-depth understanding of what it takes to win promotion, having achieved the feat both with his parent club and also Barnsley.

Tomorrow, when Paul Heckingbottom’s side complete their regular season schedule with a game against Fulham, Hourihane is hoping to take a giant leap towards securing a third. Fifth in the table and two points above seventh-placed Middlesbrough, United know victory over the visitors will guarantee them play-off qualification. Marco Silva’s men might have already lifted the Championship title. But, armed with lashings of experience and advice from a serial trophy winner, Hourihane is confident his team mates can get the job done.

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Sheffield United's Conor Hourihane is gearing up for a huge game against Fulham: David Klein / Sportimage

“Looking back, I’m fortunate to have been in similar situations before. At Villa, it was a little bit different because we were cemented in there but there was still the expectation. With Barnsley, we got in right at the end and then went on to win it.

“I’m also lucky to have had a couple of really experienced lads tell me things about these situations.

“John Terry, when we are at Villa, he was one of those. At the time, it was one of those things that you didn’t think was hugely important. Looking back, you realise it definitely was. It was all about the game and training.”

John Terry worked with Conor Hourihane at Aston Villa: Clive Mason/Getty Images

The scenarios

With their rivals from Teesside travelling to Preston North End and Luton Town, in sixth, meeting Reading, United have the toughest of all the final day assignments. Millwall, who like Middlesbrough must win to stand a chance of reaching the top six, face AFC Bournemouth - who assured themselves of second following Tuesday’s victory over Nottingham Forest.

Having triumphed 1-0 when the two clubs met at Craven Cottage in December, soon after Heckingbottom had replaced Slavisa Jokanovic as manager, it is a test United know they can pass.

Sheffield United are hoping to qualify for the play-offs: Isaac Parkin / Sportimage

Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored his 45th and 46th goals of the season during Monday’s 7-0 thrashing of Luton, obviously poses a huge threat. The same goes for Harry Wilson and Bobby Decordova Reid. But all three struggled to make an impression on the contest when United visited west London five months ago, with Iliman Ndiaye’s superb solo strike lifting them to 11th.

The advantage

Hourihane, signed by Jokanovic, thinks their disappointing start to the campaign could actually work to United’s advantage now.

“We were expected to be in and around the top six when Slav came in and we’ve been playing catch-up since then,” he admits. “There’s been a different feel - we are the chasers rather than the ones being chased. That’s brought an edge, if you like, to what we do.”

“They are obviously a good side, a team full of talent and to score the amount of goals he (Mitrovic) has, he’s had an unbelievable season,” adds Hourihane. “But we have done our homework on everyone and, as we showed there, we are a good team too.”