Sheffield United: Two ever-presents are being pushed to their physical and mental limits

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Oliver Norwood and John Egan, who has just won his latest two caps for the Republic of Ireland, are Sheffield United’s only ever-present players this season.

Although the exploits of Iliman Ndiaye, now at the World Cup with Senegal, and his strike-partner Oli McBurnie have dominated the headlines at Bramall Lane so far this season, the duo’s contribution to a sequence of results which has seen Paul Heckingbottom’s side climb to second in the table is viewed as pivotal to the team’s success by coaching staff behind the scenes.

Indeed, despite operating in deeper lying roles, the United manager has described both Egan and Norwood as being crucial to how his team wants to operate.

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“I look at those two lads,” Heckingbottom explained, “And I see them being the ones who really help to get us forward. They get us up the pitch, with the things they do.”

Given the importance of wing-backs in United’s system, treating the minor hamstring complaint which has been troubling George Baldock in recent weeks will be one of their top priorities at the Randox Health Academy during the World Cup break. Having pledged his international allegiance to Greece, Baldock could have been called up for their recent meetings with Malta and Hungary. But, following consultations between Heckingbottom and Gus Poyet, the 45-year-old’s counterpart in Athens, Baldock was omitted from the latest Greek squad. Egan, by contrast, completed the Republic of Ireland’s matches against the Maltese and Norway.

Given the workload being placed on the shoulders of Norwood and Egan, coupled with their importance to the United cause, the pair could be excused from some of the behind closed doors friendlies Heckingbottom’s men are set to contest ahead of next month’s return to domestic action. On average, Egan has made a competitive appearance every 4.3 days since the beginning of August. Norwood, who retired from international duty with Northern Ireland, entered the break in the domestic fixture schedule boasting a figure of 5.09. Baldock, who has started all but one of United’s league games this term, stands at 5.6 if only league assignments are taken into account. However, he did take part in Greece’s clashes against Cyprus and Norwood’s former colleagues in September, with Heckingbottom insisting that “travel time” must also be taken into consideration when assessing the stress professional footballers are now under.

“A lot of these lads, they’re jetting off here, there and everywhere now,” he told The Star earlier this term. “It’s an all year round business now, if you play for your country as well.”

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After insisting United are “not on holiday” ahead of December 10th’s return to action against Huddersfield Town, Egan could choose to adjust the training programmes of Egan and Norwood in order to ensure they remain available for selection over the Christmas and New Year period. That, given the disruption injuries have caused to other areas of his team, could prove crucial to United’s hopes on building upon their positive start to the campaign.

“They bring that consistency with them,” he said. “That goes for their standards but also how they allow us to approach things, which is vitally important.”