Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has told Caolan Lavery, Ben Heneghan and Nathan Thomas they must be ready for first team action at any time or risk undermining the club’s promotion challenge.
Lavery has not made a first team appearance since being injured during August’s win over Derby County and watched Saturday evening’s game with Birmingham City from the stands.
But describing how a selection crisis forced Ched Evans into action earlier this term despite being less than 70 per cent fit, Wilder said: “Caolan has just got to be patient. But I hark back to Norwich were we had four out and Ched, 60 per cent fit, went in. So it’s important those boys are ready because anything can happen at any time.”
Lavery, aged 25, nearly lost the sight in one eye following a sickening clash of heads with Marcus Olsson when Gary Rowett’s side were beaten 3-1 at Bramall Lane.
Although the former Northern Ireland under-21 international will be frustrated by his recent lack of progress, James Hanson’s cameo during last week’s fixture against Fulham demonstrated Wilder is prepared to make surprise calls if the situation demands. Hanson is still expected to leave Bramall Lane when the transfer window reopens in January but, with visiting teams beginning to adopt a more conservative approach following United’s encouraging start to the season, could be granted a reprieve.
“Big Jim came on the other night and that gave us something different,” Wilder continued. “If people sit in and we have to go round them or over the top, we’ll do that. I’m not set in my ways. If it’s working, we’ll stick with it. If it’s not, we’ll change tact.”
Heneghan and Thomas, signed from Motherwell and Hartlepool respectively, have also failed to command regular places in United’s starting eleven since moving to South Yorkshire last summer.
Wilder rates both players highly but, speaking ahead of this weekend’s trip to Millwall, said: “The three, Caolan, Nathan and Ben, have got to keep working hard because you just never, ever know when you might be needed or called upon.
“Even those who haven’t been in the starting eleven are contributing because it is their performances in training which keep those who are on their toes.”