James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: One small step for Jack, one giant leap for Jake

editorial image

It was a seemingly inconsequential moment but one that revealed plenty about the progress Jake Eastwood has made since being thrust into the firing line at Sheffield United.

Midway through the second-half of Tuesday’s friendly against Stoke City, with the Premier League club searching for the winner before Chris Wilder’s side found it instead, a cross threatened to fizz across the hosts’ penalty area until it was plucked out of the air by their young goalkeeper.

Nothing dramatic happened in the five seconds or so it took Eastwood to call for, claim and then release the ball. But that is exactly my point. The two centre-halves nearest the action, Richard Stearman and Jack O’Connell if I remember correctly, were happy to let their team mate deal with the situation. Rather than loiter close by in case he fumbled or ignore his call altogether and take charge themselves, United’s defenders fanned-out and began making their way back upfield. Eastwood has clearly earned the senior professionals’ trust.

The Steelphalt Academy graduate has been handed his opportunity in difficult circumstances; both for United and himself.

With Simon Moore nursing an injury which could force him to miss the start of the new campaign, Eastwood was in line to make his first senior start against Brentford next weekend until Chris Wilder signed Jamal Blackman, a 23-year-old from Chelsea, on loan until May.

Ideally, after completing spells on loan with Gainsborough Trinity and Mickleover, Eastwood would have been placed with a League Two club before being considered for selection. But, if Moore is confined to the treatment table, plans to let him hone his skills away from Bramall Lane will be hastily redrawn.

Jake Eastwood has acquitted himself well during games against Rotherham United and Stoke City: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Jake Eastwood has acquitted himself well during games against Rotherham United and Stoke City: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Eastwood has acquitted himself well since Moore was carried off the pitch on a stretcher at Rotherham seven days ago. I imagine a new contract is already being drafted. The prospect of him deputising for Moore, whilst admittedly being far from ideal, no longer provokes a sense of absolute dread. The lad, quite clearly, has the potential to enjoy a successful career in the game.

But whatever his fate is this season, whether he plays 30 games, three or none, Eastwood has already passed his most important test in United colours: winning the respect of his peers.

The young goalkeeper has won the trust of his team mates, including captain Billy Sharp: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The young goalkeeper has won the trust of his team mates, including captain Billy Sharp: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Simon Moore (right) missed the game against Stoke City through injury: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Simon Moore (right) missed the game against Stoke City through injury: Simon Bellis/Sportimage