Sheffield United can be great for Daniel Jebbison but Daniel Jebbison can be great for Sheffield United too
Suddenly the future doesn’t look quite so bleak after all.
Committed rather than compliant, creative in possession and disciplined without the ball, was Sunday’s match at Everton the moment we got Sheffield United back? The one which put the wind up the big guns in the Premier League last season. Not the dishevelled and dispirited group that, after being consigned to relegation a month ago, has spent the past couple of weeks trying and failing to perform a passable impression of a top-flight team.
The answer will be revealed at Newcastle on Wednesday evening, where United play the penultimate match of what has been a hugely disappointing campaign. But the emergence of a new bright young star on the Bramall Lane block means they can make the journey north with renewed hope about what next term holds.
“He’s one of a number of talented lads we’ve got pushing to come through,” caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom said, dissecting 17-year-old Daniel Jebbison’s coming-of-age at Goodison Park. “He’s done well and that will bring different challenges, because everyone is going to be talking about him now. That’s something Daniel’s going to have to cope with because, it’s important to remember, he’s nowhere near the finished article. But that’s all part of the process.”
After marking his full senior debut by scoring the only goal of the contest on a rain-sodden Merseyside, Heckingbottom is expected to park his fears about fuelling the hype around Jebbison by handing him another start at St James’ Park.
Having tormented Everton’s defenders with his power, pace and energy, the Canadian born England youth international did more in 90 minutes than some of his colleagues have produced in 900. And, although he tied himself in knots trying to say so politely, Heckingbottom clearly backs him to first get on the end of and then convert chances than others in the squad. Which, United’s caretaker manager acknowledged, is pretty much the point of being a centre-forward.
“His all round game was really good,” Heckingbottom continued. “He took up some clever positions, he looked to turn his markers and keep them moving all the time. He also showed a real desire to try and get into the box, which is where we’ve told him he can do real damage.
“But none of that was as impressive as the fact he scored a goal. Because when you're a centre-forward, that’s what you’ve got to do. There’s nothing more important or impressive than that, because that’s what, if you play that position, basically you’re out there to do. It’s your job.”
It seems bizarre to think, given the impression he has made since being allied-up, that Jebbison was playing amateur football on park pitches in Manchester only a couple of years ago. Nearly as bizarre as the fact that, after being spotted by the son of a former Steelphalt Academy coach and then invited for a trial, other members of staff were initially reluctant to offer him a place on the programme.
“They kept talking about the things he couldn’t do, which admittedly there were plenty because of his background in the game,” one witness to the conversations which followed told The Star following Jebbison’s cameo against Crystal Palace, which paved to way for his start at Everton.
“But the guy whose lad had insisted we take a look told everyone to listen, saying: ‘He might not be good at this and that, but I tell you what he is bloody good at. He can run, he’s willing to work oh, and he can stick the ball in the back of the net. Which for someone in his position, isn’t a bad start as far as I’m concerned.’”
Fortunately the guy who had worked with some of the greatest names in the business before taking up a posting in South Yorkshire got his way.
Having inherited Jebbison when he joined United following a staff reshuffle orchestrated by former manager Chris Wilder, Heckingbottom has also been encouraged by the teenager’s sense of perspective and willingness to learn new skills in order to enhance his prospects.
“I don’t know how the lads in the changing room greeted him at the end,” confessed Heckingbottom. “I missed all of that because I was straight out doing interviews with you guys.
“What I do know is they’ll keep his feet on the ground and make sure his attitude is right, because that’s what they’re like. And in fairness, that’s what Daniel is like as well. He won’t get carried away because he knows this is only the start and that you're not really a footballer until you’ve played 100 games.”
Jebbison, who is set to take another small step towards that target in the North-East, appears to be a positive influence on his older colleagues too. Despite failing to add to his goal tally, David McGoldrick produced one of his best performances in a United jersey against Carlo Ancelott’s side - benefitting from his partner’s work rate, legs and ability to drag opponents out of position.
With Ben Osborn and Jack Robinson also catching the eye after being recalled, the visitors approached their work with an energy which, until Jebbison’s introduction, had been conspicuous by its absence eight days earlier.
“We wanted to try and ‘stretch’ the match, to impose ourselves on it and we thought Daniel would help with that, which he did,” Heckingbottom said. “But I thought to a man, every single one of the players out there was excellent. That was a real team performance, in every aspect.”