Sheffield United could be set for Jack O'Connell injury boost as Chris Wilder drops hint over return date
Sheffield United could be handed an unexpected boost in their pursuit of Premier League survival after Chris Wilder, their manager, hinted that influential defender Jack O'Connell may return from injury sooner than first thought.
The influential defender started the first game of this current season against Wolves, but then went under the knife to correct a long-standing knee problem that was plaguing his performances.
United have struggled in his absence, only winning their first Premier League game of the season against Newcastle United earlier this week - at the 18th time of asking.
It was initially feared that O'Connell would miss the entire season as he continues his rehabilitation from the surgery.
But the defender has been pictured hard at work in the gym, both at Shirecliffe and in Dubai after being given permission to continue his comeback overseas.
And Wilder hinted after the Newcastle game that O'Connell could be back as soon as mid-February, which would represent a significant boost in United's pursuit of an unlikely survival bid.
United have tried a number of players at left centre-half in a bid to replace O'Connell, including Jack Robinson, wing-back Enda Stevens and Kean Bryan. Ethan Ampadu is currently in possession of that shirt, and put in probably his most accomplished performance for the Blades against Newcastle.
O'Connell, one of United's most accomplished performers as they finished ninth in the top flight in their first season since winning promotion from the Championship, played through the pain barrier after damaging his knee in a training-ground collision with then-Blades goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who has since returned to parent club Manchester United.
“We got him going again in pre-season, but you can see that he’s below the levels where he’s usually at, the levels he usually hits and where he needs to be," Wilder said at the time of O'Connell's operation.
“He’s been having discomfort again and we’re wrapping him up in cotton wool. But, long-term, it’s not good for him to carry on.
“Our back three are hugely influential for us and Jack has been with us right the way through, all the way from the days in League One.”