Sheffield United: Former Manchester City kid Bryan is Kean to get going... and Travis Binnion’s methods appear to be working at Blades

Sheffield United U23's Kean Bryan against Hull City U23's.
Sheffield United U23's Kean Bryan against Hull City U23's.
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After years on the plush green pitches of Manchester City's Etihad Campus, a 45-minute cameo at Stocksbridge Park Steels' Bracken Moor will have been an eye opener for Kean Bryan.

High on the summit of one of the Steel City's highest hills, the 21-year-old made his Sheffield United debut just the 61 days after signing for the club and, after seeing his progress in red and white stunted by a combination of fitness injuries and illness, took a significant step in his formative Blades career earlier today in a 1-1 Professional Development League draw against Hull City's U23s.

After his decade-long association with City - which saw him progress to captain of the club's development squad - came to an end in the summer, the game won't have been the most glamorous he'll have experienced. But, in terms of looking forward rather than back, it could prove one of the more important.

Bryan's lack of fitness in pre-season saw him absent from the United squad in the early part of this campaign before picking up an illness further delayed his comeback and he was, by manager Chris Wilder's own admission, "very close" to playing in United's mini-derby victory over Wednesday at Hillsborough last month.

That 'debut' in red and white eventually came today, when Simeon Oure cancelled out Keane Lewis-Potter's freak opener for the visitors to earn United a share of the spoils. Substitute Stephen Mallon tapped in a late 'winner', which referee Amy Fearn ruled out for a foul by David Parkhouse in the build-up.

For his part, Bryan's debut was steady rather than spectacular. Lining up on the left of a back three in a relatively young Blades side, even by U23 standards, and shorn of senior players like Paul Coutts and Martin Cranie who have been regulars in recent weeks, Bryan was tidy on the ball and useful defensively, dominating Hull's forwards both in the air and on the deck.

Sheffield United U23's Jordan Hallam in action against Hull City U23's.

Sheffield United U23's Jordan Hallam in action against Hull City U23's.

With Wilder employing a similar formation in United's Championship endeavours, it's perhaps easy to understand why he signed Bryan once a move to Scottish giants Rangers fell through. And far grander stages surely await for the former City youngster.

His debut almost got off to an inauspicious start, though, as United could and probably should have been one down inside the first 60 seconds. A mix-up in defence between George Cantrill and Jake Bennett, two performers who were nonetheless impressive, saw the two come together with Lewis-Potter as he raced through on goal.

A tangle of legs, arms and bodies ensued and a penalty looked inevitable. Fearn stood firm and waved the appeals away.

The sides then exchanged opportunities to open the scoring, Jordan Hickey going close for the visitors and the lively Oli Greaves seeing his shot cleared off the line by Josh Thacker after Hull goalkeeper Harrison Foulkes was caught with the ball in no man's land.

Travis Binnion, Sheffield United's academy manager

Travis Binnion, Sheffield United's academy manager

Greaves then shot wide after a quick United break, but the opener did come two minutes later when a ball over the top caused havoc in the home defence. Jordan Amissah, deputising for usual goalkeeper Jake Eastwood, came for it; Cantrill tried to take charge, and succeeded only in heading the ball past his 'keeper and into the path of Lewis-Potter. The striker gleefully accepted the gift.

Amissah's opposite number Foulkes did well to deny Harry Boyes, but could do nothing to keep out the United equaliser moments later when Bennett, a lively wing-back who seems equally as comfortable on either flank, worked his way through the Hull defence and French striker Oure, who signed a professional deal with United earlier this year, finished confidently past Foulkes with one of those delicious lobbed-chipped finishes that take an age to hit the back of the net.

United - by this point sans Bryan - went close to taking the lead in the second half when a shot from Harry Sheppeard, the boy who prompts a double-check of his surname every time it is written saw his shot smack off the outside of the post.

Oure then saw what looked a certain penalty turned down as he raced away from the Hull defence and was poleaxed by a combination of defender and 'keeper, incredibly somehow penalised for the foul himself. 

United thought they'd finally made the breakthough with time running out, Mallon turning home a deep cross. But fellow substite Parkhouse, essentially a man in a man's body and still only somehow 18 years old, had been penalised seconds earlier, and the reward for both sides was a point apiece from this absorbing and fascinating encounter.

In truth, these games more often that not are, if only for Blades academy chief Travis Binnion's running commentary from the home dugout, and at some volume too. Players - or 'youths' as he affectionately calls them from the touchline - are chided and celebrated almost in equal measure and at times against Hull, the football almost became a sideshow as both benches seemed to compete at who could make the most noise. Binnion's United may not have won the game, but he certainly took the honours in that battle.

Still only 31, Binnion is thought to be highly-rated at United and as a former Blades academy prospect himself, seems ideally placed to guide this latest crop of hopefuls. It certainly seems that these players respond to him and it raises half a smile everytime he can be heard bellowing praise or grumbles at 'Benno'. 'Docks' [the impressive skipper Jordan Docherty] or Greavesy but calls Jordan Hallam, wait for it... Jordey Hallam. Each and every time. It's a refreshing change in the age of every footballer seemingly having a 'y' stuck on the end of their name, but Hallamy doesn't sound quite right anyway.

In more than one way, Hallam himself is a bit of a throwback like that. Possibly the oldest-looking 19-year-old in English professional football, he plays with, in the right way, the freedom of a child and in a sort-of-Mark-Duffy role, in the most un-Mark-Duffy-way possible.

Dropping almost anywhere to get on the ball, it was tempting to ponder at one stage yesterday whether he'd end up taking goal kicks and with his old-school haircut, black boots and shirt billowing in the wind as the Stocksbridge chill began to set in, he looked a proper player.

Only time will tell if he, or any of these players, will 'make it' at United. But in years to come, perhaps Bryan won't be the only one who saw his formative Bramall Lane career forged here, high on one of Sheffield's highest hills.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​