If familiarity really does breed contempt then Sheffield United are in a whole heap of trouble.
Dominic Poleon, Mark Yeates, Connor Brown and, injury permitting, Jonathan Forte feature among a quintet of former players set to represent Oldham Athletic during tomorrow’s FA Cup second round tie.
But an intoxicating cocktail of personal and professional reasons means it is Danny Philliskirk, the visitors’ gifted centre-forward, who poses arguably the greatest danger to Nigel Adkins’ side.
“I’ve got no bad feelings towards Sheffield United at all,” he says. “In fact, I’ve still got a few friends there. I’m good mates with Ryan Flynn and I speak to him pretty regularly. But, to be honest, the only thing I’m focused on is trying to score and going through. All of the other stuff around the game doesn’t come in to it at all.”
Philliskirk, despite those well-meaning words, could be forgiven for being driven by the urge to prove a point when he returns to Bramall Lane. The 24-year-old made only eight appearances and one start, in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Burton Albion, during a 25 month stay in South Yorkshire before being released two years ago. Now back at Boundary Park, the club where his performances at youth team level were rewarded with a move to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2007, Philliskirk admits it was a period full of self-doubt but, on reflection, absolutely no regrets.
“I never really got a chance at United,” he remembers. “The decision to come here was probably the best thing I’ve done. But there are no regrets about my time with United. None at all. There are no hard feelings and, looking back, I still picked-up a lot. Being at United was a great learning curve. I scored plenty of goals for the under-21’s and I’ve only got good things to say about Morgs (Chris Morgan) and Richard Cresswell who was there at the time too. They taught me so much and a lot of the things they passed on, I’m using now. They’re being put to good effect.”
Philliskirk, by his own admission, is a very different player to the one which left United three seasons ago. But having scored six goals in 24 outings this term, including one in Oldham’s first round replay against Mansfield Town last month, his performances since reveal the difficulties young players face persuading managers whose jobs are at risk unless promotion is delivered to persevere with their talents.
“Maybe I wasn’t physically ready,” Philliskirk continues, “Perhaps I was a bit of a late developer.
“But I’m much more mature, both mentally and physically, now. Obviously I’ve got stronger and grown-up a lot. I’m tougher in my mind as well. I’ve had so many knockbacks during my career. I didn’t really start playing until I came here because, after leaving United, I went to Coventry and didn’t really get involved there much either. There’s no point in denying it, a little bit of doubt does creep in about whether you are ever going to get an opportunity. Now I’ve been given one, hopefully I’m showing what I can do. But it also makes you work doubly hard because, knowing what it’s like not to be involved, there’s no way I want to find myself in that situation again.”
Philliskirk’s career has gone full circle following his move to Stamford Bridge. Having signed a short-term agreement with City before rejoining Oldham at the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign, David Dunn’s recent appointment has seen him go from strength to strength.
“The new manager here has been brilliant for me. He just gives me so much belief and confidence for when I go out there on the pitch. The emphasis is always on being positive and playing to your strengths. We had a bit of a tricky time a while back and you always need a little bit of luck. We didn’t always get that during games and there were plenty of matches where we played well and deserved to get something but, for one reason or another, didn’t. But the new manager has given us a massive amount of belief in what we can do and achieve.”
Oldham, 21st in the League One table following last weekend’s defeat by Crewe, drew 1-1 with United earlier this season and have not lost any of their previous five matches at Bramall Lane. Adkins, as he attempts to claw back the 12 point gap separating his team from the automatic promotion places, will be determined to progress at the first attempt but the visitors, Philliskirk warns, are also confident of reaching the third round stage. Even if it means bunkering down for the long haul.
“United are a good team with a good squad and a good manager. But all the pressure here is on them. It should be a decent game. We like going to Bramall Lane and, if I remember rightly, every game I’ve played against them since has been a draw. Someone is going to have to go through here though, even if it’s after a replay.
“The FA Cup is a different competition and you see so many upsets. We mentioned that in our dressing room when we were away at Mansfield. We brought them back to Boundary Park and we always fancy ourselves at our place. You just have to go out there and be positive. We’ll try to put our stamp on the game.”