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VIDEO: Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder explains adapted timescale over striker Ched Evans

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Ched Evans has been told to focus on ensuring he is fit and ready to start next season, despite manager Chris Wilder’s insistence the centre-forward can still perform an important role this term.

Evans has been plagued by fitness issues since returning to Sheffield United last summer and underwent surgery to solve a persistent knee problem before Christmas.

Although Wilder told The Star that a four year career hiatus, combined with a series of injuries at his previous club Chesterfield, meant such complications were inevitable, he said: “Ched had a little bit of a set-back. It’s been a real difficult season for him.

“We recognise, really, we are looking next year now for Ched. But if we need him, you know he’s going to stick his hand up and get out there. He’s had a few set-backs along the way which is disappointing for him, but if Ched does have a part to play, I know he’ll play it well.”

Evans, aged 29, scored 42 league goals in only 77 starts during his first spell at Bramall Lane before spending two-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of rape in 2012. The conviction was later quashed by the Court of Appeal and he was found not guilty at a retrial four months after returning to football with United’s neighbours in April 2016.

Despite making only 13 appearances so far this term, Wilder has reassured Evans about his place in United’s plans irrespective of the division they are competing in next season. Last weekend’s defeat at Barnsley saw them remain ninth in the Championship table, four points behind the play-off positions, ahead of Tuesday evening's meeting with sixth-placed Middlesbrough.

Ched Evans

Ched Evans

Impressed by the fact Evans volunteered for selection at the beginning of the campaign to help avert a selection crisis, United’s coaching staff believe completing a proper pre-season programme will improve his conditioning.

“It’s not been an ideal situation,” Wilder acknowledged. “But it’s one we have faith in that, if he does stay fit and with a bit of luck, he’s got a big role to play here going forward.”