It might not feature at the top of their ‘to do’ list but James Wallace, the Sheffield United midfielder, has explained why lifting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy could help rather than hinder the League One club’s promotion prospects this term, writes James Shield.
Wallace features among a clutch of players expected to feature during tonight’s first round tie at Victoria Park, which pits Nigel Adkins’ side against Ronnie Moore’s Hartlepool, providing he recovers from a minor calf problem.
Statistics suggest an early exit would best serve United’s hopes of reaching the Championship next season, with 90 per cent of the previous 10 teams to claw themselves out of the third tier departing before the third round stage.
But after their hopes of replicating last season’s march into the Capital One Cup semi-finals vanished following a defeat at Fulham seven days ago, Wallace outlined the possible implications of another failure in knockout competition.
“For the lads who won’t play so much in this month in the league, this is game time,” Wallace said. “I haven’t been starting so, personally speaking, I want to go through because it’s more minutes for me.
“The JP might not be a priority for the club as a whole but, for the lads who haven’t been out there much, it’s a chance to impress. We want to win to get more games and get more opportunities to impress.”
Opportunities have been in short supply for Wallace since his arrival at Bramall Lane last summer. A series of injuries, including a lingering knee complaint, limited him to only 13 appearances during his debut season in United colours although, as Adkins’ decision to hand him the captain’s armband at Craven Cottage demonstrated, thankfully those issues now seem a thing of the past.
Nevertheless, despite acknowledging he will not replicate the form which prompted Adkins’ predecessor Nigel Clough to prise him away from Tranmere Rovers overnight, Wallace admitted: “Every game is a building block and it’s progress for me. Hopefully I will keep on getting chances but there comes a time when those chances will come to an end so I’ve got to take them sooner rather than later.
“I need to get much fitter and I need to improve. I need to get more aggressive and be doing much better than I am at the minute. That comes through being in training and being out there on the pitch.”
The trip to the North-East, which now seems an annual event on United’s fixture calendar, will be a poignant moment for Wallace given Moore’s presence in the opposition dug-out. The former Rotherham chief was responsible for taking him to Prenton Park when, ignoring Everton’s pleas to stay, Wallace elected to turn his back on the Premier league club in search of starting role. Moore described the 23-year-old as a “top-flight player” in the making soon after his registration was transferred to South Yorkshire, insisting that only his disappointing fitness record had prevented Wallace from making the leap earlier.
“I’m happy just to be playing games at the moment,” Wallace said. “But I’m not so happy with my performances. I need to keep working hard in the week and keep getting minutes under my belt.
“It was nice getting the captaincy at Fulham but I would have preferred, to be honest, to go through. I’m a footballer, I want to play football. The physio’s room isn’t where I want to be. That’s why this tie is so important.”
Unfortunately for Wallace, his participation, confirmed by Adkins before last weekend’s victory over Swindon Town, has been placed in doubt by another unwanted appointment with United’s medical team. A calf injury prevented him from taking part at the County Ground although coaching staff were at pains to point out afterwards that it was a slight rather than serious set-back.
“There isn’t a game, as a professional footballer,” Wallace said, “That you should be happy to lose.”