Conor Washington is close to forcing his way into Sheffield United's first-choice eleven, manager Chris Wilder has revealed, after impressing coaching staff with a series of combative performances during training.
The Northern Ireland centre-forward, who arrived at Bramall Lane earlier this season, hopes to make only his second start since leaving Queens Park Rangers when United attempt to regain top spot in the Championship at Rotherham on Saturday.
With Wilder drawing-up plans to sign another centre-forward during the January transfer window, fears had been expressed that Washington could find himself out in the cold only five months after moving to South Yorkshire.
But, confirming those predictions are wide of the mark, he insisted the 26-year-old remains an integral part of United's promotion plans, saying: "Conor is pushing hard, trust me, he's really caught our eye recently and he's close; very, very close.
"We think a lot of him, that's why we brought him here in the first place, and we've been delighted with what he's been showing behind the scenes. If that carries on, and there's no reason why it won't, then he'll get his opportunity. Because what we've been watching has been excellent."
Wilder's words will come as a relief to Washington, who has yet to make an impact following his transfer to United and faces a constant barrage of stories linking them with other strikers. Although Wilder has made no secret of his desire to boost United's firepower, it appears that represents an attempt to increase their tactical flexibility rather than an indictment of Washington and his team mates.
Captain Billy Sharp has scored 11 times during United's climb to fourth in the table, three points behind leaders Norwich City, while David McGoldrick has also proved a shrewd acquisition.
Although injury prevented Washington from linking-up with his country ahead of their recent matches against the Republic of Ireland and Austria, Wilder explained: "It's only a little niggling thing but he should be okay. There shouldn't be any problems with him."