Sheffield United: Jack O'Connell's heartache could lead to a changing of the guard at Bramall Lane

Two years ago, when Sheffield United were preparing to reacquaint themselves with the Premier League following more than a decade away, Chris Wilder was busy telling anyone who cared to listen about a home-grown player he felt was destined for big things.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 4:12 pm

The youngster’s name was Rhys Norrington-Davies and, despite still being yet to feature in one of his own starting elevens, the youngster had already impressed Wilder with his performances out on loan.

“He’s a natural successor to Jack O’Connell,” the 53-year-old said during one pre-season briefing. “If he gets lured away, then we’ve got a ready made replacement.”

Twenty-four months on, with Wilder long since departed and O’Connell clearly battling to save his career, Norrington-Davies is still waiting to make his United debut. But even though the defender’s preferred position has probably changed, there is a feeling behind the scenes that his time has now come.

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Rhys Norrington-Davies has now made a positive impression with two Sheffield United managers: Darren Staples / Sportimage
Rhys Norrington-Davies has now made a positive impression with two Sheffield United managers: Darren Staples / Sportimage

With O’Connell forced to undergo yet another procedure to try and repair his damaged knee, a vacancy exists within Slavisa Jokanovic’s squad for an attacking centre-half. And, if United’s new manager perseveres with the 3-5-2 system favoured by his predecessor, then Norrington-Davies appears equipped to fill it. Or at least compete with Jack Robinson for a role on the left-hand side of a reaguard.

Norrington-Davies has already made a positive impression on Jokanovic after agreeing to cut short his holiday after representing Wales at this summer’s European Championships in order to resume training at the Steelphalt Academy. The Serb, who officially took charge earlier this month, was also impressed by his performance during last weekend’s friendly against Europa Point in Estepona.

“Yes, I thought he did well,” Jokanovic said, “Very busy, very tidy and always looking to get forward.

“But others did well too and it is always about the group. We will be looking to build on that now.”

Jokanovic admitted O’Connell “wasn’t in his plans for pre-season” but that he was waiting for information from United’s medical department about the Liverpudlian’s progress when he was presented to the media a fortnight ago. With O’Connell recently returning to hospital for more surgery on the joint which has kept him out of action since September, one suspects the former Yugoslavia midfielder knew more than he was letting on.