Why Sheffield United are refusing to put a date on Jack O'Connell's return from injury

Having confirmed Jack O’Connell’s season is over, Sheffield United’s interim manager Paul Heckingbottom has admitted it is still impossible to predict exactly when the centre-half will return to first team action.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 3:52 pm

O’Connell, whose absence is recognised as a major factor behind United’s struggles this term, has been absent since September after being withdrawn from the Yorkshire derby against Leeds in order to undergo knee surgery.

As The Star first revealed, O’Connell recently suffered a set-back in his battle for fitness which effectively put paid to his chances of featuring again before the start of next season - when United will attempt to regain their Premier League status at the first attempt after surrendering it nearly a month ago.

Asked when the 27-year-old might be available for selection again, Heckingbottom replied: “Jack will be led by his symptoms, although hopefully there won’t be any of them now.

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Jack O'Connell (C) has not played for Sheffield United since September: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

“He’s not with us at the minute, because he’s going through a similar process as before. But this time, he’s going through it at a much slower pace.

“If there’s any swelling, at any point, then of course that’s a step back. Fingers crossed though, because we’re taking things at the different pace to before, there won’t be any of those.”

Widely regarded as one of the most attack minded defenders in the division, losing O’Connell robbed United of a vital cog in the 3-5-2 formation which helped them finish ninth in the table after being promoted from the Championship. However, after acknowledging O’Connell had been playing through the pain barrier for much of his professional career, Heckingbottom’s predecessor Chris Wilder eventually took a view that the situation needed addressing once and for all.

However, with United’s failure to sign a direct replacement being compounded by the loss of Jack Robinson to injury, the loss of O’Connell has proven a far bigger issue than anyone dared to imagine at the time. United enter Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace searching for only their 6th win of the campaign.

Sheffield United's Interim manager Paul Heckingbottom: JUSTIN SETTERFIELD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“We’ll be guided by how Jack is feeling and that’s the right way to do it,” said Heckingbottom, who has been in caretaker charge since April. “We’re not rushing anything and, hopefully by doing that, we’ll gradually be able to increase his workload.”