The most plausible explanation yet for Sheffield United's injury woes
For most of the past seven months, indeed ever since they returned to action following the first national lockdown, Sheffield United have been struggling to fathom why a squad of players once famed for its durability is now riddled with injuries.
The fast turnaround between seasons, a truncated warm-up programme and just rank bad luck have all been put forward as reasons.
But, as they prepare for Saturday’s visit to Wolverhampton Wanderers set to be without two more influential players, United’s caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom might just have come up with the most plausible theory yet in the search for an explanation to the club’s fitness issues.
Although he did not say so explicitly, Heckingbottom appeared to suggest that United’s decision to continue training at full pace when the previous campaign was suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic might have been a factor. With his team challenging for a place in Europe at the time, Heckingbottom admitted it was inevitable his predecessor Chris Wilder would press ahead with their usual schedule rather than order the team to rest before the Steelphalt Academy temporarily closed its doors.
But on reflected, had he known the competition would not resume for another three months, one suspects Heckingbottom believes both Wilder and his staff might have done things differently.
“Different clubs did lockdown differently,” Heckingbottom observed, after confirming striker Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie have both been ruled out until the summer with tendon and foot complaints respectively. “Here, we kept training and pushing because we were in such a great position. Others just relaxed and took a step back. But here, I think it always had to be that way.”
“The only problem was,” Heckingbottom continued, “Nobody knew how long it (lockdown) was going to last. In the end, it really dragged on and that made it a very long season for everyone here.
“It’s made this one a very long one as well, when you think the two effectively just morphed into each other.”
With Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham, Jack Rodwell, Jake Robinson, Chris Basham and Sander Berge also on the treatment table, Heckingbottom received more bad news following last weekend’s defeat by Arsenal - a result which left United 18 points adrift of safety with only seven matches remaining.
John Fleck, who started the meeting with Mikel Arteta’s side, has not trained since Monday after reporting discomfort in his groin. Berge is now taking part in full contact sessions but the Norwegian is unlikely to be considered for the trip to Molineux.
“Do injuries cause bad results or is it the bad results that cause injuries,” Heckingbottom said. “I don’t know. What I do is that we’ve never been able to have a full complement of players and that always makes it really difficult.
“Sander has been doing full contact, all of the work, since Monday,” Heckingbottom added. “That’s really good to see and now it’s just a case of building him up and making sure he’s exactly right.
“John is just feeling sore. He’s not done anything but hopefully he will before (Wolves).”