Leon Clarke’s injury has robbed Sheffield United of a proven centre-forward and Ethan Ebanks-Landell his travel companion on the daily commute.
But, as the on-loan defender explains, every cloud has a silver lining.
“I usually get the train here with Leon every morning but, since he’s been getting treatment, we’re in at different times. Mind you, at least I can get a bit more sleep in before training now. Because, trust me, that guy is always talking. He never shuts-up.”
Although Chris Wilder would prefer him not to get any shut eye - Clarke scored 18 times in 37 appearances for Bury last term - Ebanks-Landell’s comments are revealing. And not only because they dispel the myth his former team mate at Wolverhampton Wanderers is a quiet, sullen character who prefers his own company to the hubbub of the dressing room. Wilder, the United manager, made forging a strong team spirit one of his top priorities after charge in May. His reputation for constructing squads tighter than a Brexit budget has been enhanced by the fact this has already been achieved despite the arrival of 13 new players, Ebanks-Landell included, since Nigel Adkins’ departure five months ago.
“Most of the boys had come in during the summer,” Ebanks-Landell continues. “They were really close already which tells you a lot but they welcomed me with open arms. They’ve gone out of their way to make sure I feel at home and a part of everything that goes on. And that’s appreciated, it really is.”
Ebanks-Landell, aged 23, joined United until the end of the season on transfer deadline day. Persuading Wolves to part company with the youngster has proven a particularly astute piece of business and, given his recent displays, potentially raised eyebrows at Molineux. Walter Zenga’s side sit 16th in the Championship table after a mixed start to the campaign which, given their desire to sign Ebanks-Landell permanently, United hope does not lead to calls for him to be recalled.
“It’s great to be playing football again,” Ebanks-Landell admits. “Because that’s exactly what I came out to do.
“I’ve settled in well. Lots of people think it doesn’t matter if you aren’t tight off the pitch so long as you get results on it. That’s fair enough I suppose but, to be fair, if you are tight off the pitch and also doing the business on it then that’s got to be better, right? It pulls you through the difficult times.”
A graduate of Wolves’ academy system, Ebanks-Landell made his professional debut for the club in 2013. But it was an earlier loan spell at Bury where he honed the combat skills which have helped United reach fourth in the League One table ahead of tomorrow’s visit to second-placed Bradford City.
“You have to enjoy the physical challenge and the confrontation aspect if you play at the back,” Ebanks-Landell admits. “Maybe in the Premier League it’s a bit different, although there are a few really big lads up there, but in the Football League you have to stand-up for yourself and really get stuck in. I’ve always been taught that I’m a defender first and foremost. That my biggest responsibility is to try and keep the ball out of our net. Anything else after that is a bonus. That’s the main aspect of our job.”
Having spent 14 years in the Black Country, Ebanks-Landell has been fortunate to learn from some of the best.
“I had Jody Craddock and Richard Stearman alongside me there and they were great to learn from,” he says. “Stears has probably been the biggest influence on my career on and off the pitch. Funnily enough, he’s probably best known as a ball playing centre-half but, trust me, he can look after himself too. The first thing he did when I started training with the first team lads as a 16 year old was absolutely smash me. But that was great because I didn’t want any favours. It’s a tough business after all.”
United have good reason to thank Stearman too because, by a twist of fate, it was his return to Wolves which paved the way for Ebanks-Landell’s arrival at Bramall Lane.
“When he came back to Wolves I was one of the first to say ‘welcome back’ even though I knew that was my place in the team gone,” Ebanks-Landell continues. “Stears is a great friend of mine.”
United expect Clarke, another Wolves academy graduate, to return to action early next month. With Wilder recently expressing concerns about the workload being placed on fellow strikers Matt Done and Billy Sharp, Ebanks-Landell believes his presence can help United push for a promotion place.
“Leon’s a top player and there are other top players here as well,” he says. “But the more of them you have to choose from the better. When Leon is ready, he’s another guarantee of goals.”