Sheffield United: The teenager with "the brains of a man" tipped to become a first team regular

After being impressed with his maturity and technical prowess, it was no surprise to hear Sheffield United Paul Heckingbottom predict that Oliver Arblaster is destined for a long and successful career at Bramall Lane.

Monday, 14th March 2022, 4:01 pm

Read More

Read More
Sheffield United: Manager's defiant statement and bold prediction ahead of Black...

But as he prepares to select his squad for Wednesday’s visit to Blackpool - a task which, thanks to an almost unprecedented number of injuries, is becoming easier by the day - Heckingbottom has cautioned against expecting too much from the talented young midfielder.

Particularly as United, sixth in the table following the latest round of Championship fixtures, enter a critical phase of their battle for promotion.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

“In terms of Ollie, I can definitely see him playing in Sheffield United’s first team,” said Heckingbottom, after naming him on the bench for last weekend’s meeting with Coventry City. “He can handle the ball well, he reads situations and he’s got the brains of a man. But you’ve still got to remember, despite all of that, he’s still a boy.

“And we need people, ideally, who have been in this situation before out there on the pitch.”

Previously United’s under-23’s coach, Heckingbottom placed their development programme at the heart of his long-term plans after succeeding Slavisa Jokanovic in November. But with his side now involved in one of the tightest races for play-off qualification in recent memory - only six points separate them from their latest opponents in 12th - the 44-year-old’s priorities have changed.

Oliver Arblaster warms up before Sheffield United's game at Coventry City: Ashley Crowden / Sportimage

Rather than consider what his squad might look like in 24 or 36 months time, Heckingbottom has now been forced to adopt a more transient approach; particularly, as he admitted yesterday, with “50 percent” of his “outfield players” set to miss the match at Bloomfield Road due to a variety of fitness issues.

With Femi Seriki, Daniel Jebbison and Kacper Lopata also featuring among the substitutes during United’s 4-1 defeat in Warwickshire, Heckingbottom’s lack of experienced options should he be required to try and change a game is a source of growing concern behind the scenes. Hence his reminder that, if circumstances were different, Arblaster would probably still be out on loan at Bradford Park Avenue having joined the National League North outfit in October.

“For those lads, it’s fantastic,” Heckingbottom said. “But where we are, we need the players to be fit.”

Paul Heckingbottom is set to tread carefully with Sheffield United's youngsters as the club chases promotion: Ashley Crowden / Sportimage
Oliver Arblaster in action for Sheffield United's development squad: Simon Bellis / Sportimage