Sheffield United retain Oli McBurnie hope ahead of Nottingham Forest clash after encouraging news

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Sheffield United fans feared Oli McBurnie may have played last game for Blades ahead of contract expiry

Chris Wilder has not given up hope that Oli McBurnie will play again this season after the Sheffield United striker received a positive second opinion on the injury that was initially thought to have prematurely curtailed his campaign. The Scottish international forward missed United’s last two trips, to Manchester United and Newcastle, with a groin issue.

An initial scan revealed that the damage was sufficient enough to end McBurnie’s involvement for the current season, leading to fears that he had played his last game for the Blades ahead of his contract expiring in the summer. But speaking after the 5-1 defeat at St. James’ Park, which confirmed his side’s relegation back to the Championship at the first time of asking, Wilder said: “We had better news on Oli McBurnie in the second opinion and the second scan. It'll still be touch and go if he plays again this season but he doesn't need surgery and hopefully, if we can get him back for the last game of the season that'll be brilliant.”

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James McAtee, who was this week named young player of the season for the entire South Yorkshire region at The Star football awards, will be assessed this week after missing out at Newcastle with a similar injury that forced him to be substituted at Old Trafford less than half an hour after coming off the bench himself. “He missed out,” Wilder said of the Manchester City loanee, and we've got a week to hopefully get him back right.” McBurnie’s injury is the latest in a series of them for the Blades this season, a situation that has undoubtedly contributed to their poor season overall. Just three more goals conceded in their last three matches will see them equal the unwanted Premier League record, Swindon Town’s 100 in 1993/94 from 42 matches, with the long absences of club skipper John Egan and vice-captain Chris Basham contributing to what Wilder has acknowledged as a lack of leadership amongst his back-line.

As of mid-April, the Blades had suffered 28 fitness issues this season and lost players for a combined 1,471 days - more than four years. The increase in injuries is a trend that is only going one way - in the Premier League, Newcastle, Brentford and Crystal Palace have even worse fitness records than United - with United even commissioning an independent investigation into the problem earlier this season.

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“I'm looking at it and it's the same amount of games, really,” said Wilder on the general injury trend. “I suppose one thing is that the international players are playing all year round but there are more injuries being flagged up, whether it's from a physiological point of view, a characteristic point of view, whether players are flagging up more soft tissue injuries at an early stage and medical departments are scanning everything.

"Maybe a few years ago stuff won't have been scanned and players just played through it. Everybody talks about how many players play through a season 100 per cent match-fit. There's always the bumps and bruises of players playing with injuries. Maybe now people are scanning everything that moves and you're out for two weeks and you shouldn't do this or that. Maybe that's why there's more injuries getting flagged up.

"I looked into the Newcastle one and there's a few hamstrings in there but sometimes you can be really unfortunate - dislocated shoulders, knee ligament injuries. These are just something that unfortunately come with the intensity. Maybe another thing is the physicality of the division and the speed of it. Maybe that's pushing towards more injuries."

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