Sheffield United boss's warning to out-of-contract stars amid John Egan injury return hope

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Sheffield United are still hopeful that club skipper John Egan will play again before the end of this current season after manager Chris Wilder acknowledged the "difficult" situation his injury has caused. The Republic of Ireland international has not featured since limping off at West Ham at the end of September and is out of contract in the summer.

Both Egan and fellow injured defender Chris Basham have been seen more at Shirecliffe in recent weeks as they continue their rehabilitation processes and their absences are being keenly felt. No other club in Premier League history has conceded more goals at the 25-game mark than United's 65 so far and their third successive five-goal concession at home came against Brighton at the weekend.

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Egan's Achilles injury has also complicated plans for his future, with United keen to improve the availability of their key players next season and beyond. Key men including Basham, George Baldock and Oli McBurnie are also scheduled to become free agents in the summer as things stand but have also been restricted by injuries so far this season.

Egan was named in United's Premier League squad for the second half of the season recently and Wilder said: "It's going to be tight, but we've had him down to hopefully come back before the end of the season. I'm not saying he's going to be ready in the next month but if he makes the strides and the speed of recovery he is at the moment, you never know, going into the final two or three games.

"You have a general idea of where he's going to be at but sometimes things are favourable with those situations and if John's available and if we need him towards the end of the season he's certainly someone we can rely on and we'd be stronger with his experience, his know-how and his ability."

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After such a long-term injury, however, and with funds tight, United must balance the pros and cons carefully before deciding whether to offer any of their absent stars new deals. "I think it's quite a difficult one," said Wilder after being asked about Egan's future, "because we've talked about availability at this football club and it's huge. The availability of the players for quite a long period has not been great, and it affects everything.

"It affects your consistency, continuity, team selection, the availability to change things and rest players and get any sort of rhythm from a coaching point of view. It's the biggest thing. I've said to the board we definitely need players that are available, whatever division we're in and through that, you have to make decisions on players and we have to make sure that we get it right as well.

"That isn't being negative to the likes of Basham and John Egan who've been outstanding and for me, I'd love them to still be part of things moving forward. But we have to make sure that John gets back to full fitness and that is not just an emotional signing, because of what he's done in the past. Everyone knows all these lads have got to contribute, whether it's next year in the Prem or next year outside of the Prem."

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