But five months after dislocating a knee during their Championship victory over Ipswich Town, Kieron Freeman (pictured) is preparing to forget his rehab routines and focus on the much more appealing business of trying to help Sheffield United win promotion.
Freeman, whose team mate Enda Stevens was yesterday named in the Republic of Ireland squad which meets Turkey in a friendly later this month, feared his season was over after suffering the injury midway through October’s meeting with Mick McCarthy’s side.
Although initial predictions he would return within six to eight weeks proved optimistic, Chris Wilder has confirmed the wing-back could feature when United play the return fixture at Portman Road this weekend.
“Kieron is back involved with the first team now,” the United manager said. “So that’s good to see. George Baldock’s performances have been good throughout the season. But Kieron is also really pushing. He’s a good player too and he can play in different positions. It’s good to have him where he is now. It gives us options and decisions to make.”
Welcoming Freeman back into the fold is a major boost for United as they attempt to keep their top six hopes alive. Despite slipping to ninth in the table following Tuesday’s defeat by Fulham, Wilder’s side travel to Suffolk today only three points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough with a game in hand.
“You’ve got to recognise, when I’ve got a squad of 21 or 22, I’ve got to pick the right bench as well,” Wilder continued. “If someone goes down injured during the game, I’ve got to pick the right bench to try and win the game. We’ve also got to have the right substitutes to try and affect the game.”
Former United loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers, whose accidental collision with Freeman caused the 25-year-old’s injury, is expected to face his former club at Portman Road after being signed on a temporary basis by McCarthy in January. Centre-forwards Leon Clarke (hamstring) and James Wilson (ankle) could also take part after making progress in their respective fitness battles.
Ipswich are 12th, four points behind United, after beating Sheffield Wednesday earlier this week.
“People will look at the table and look at the fact we’ve also beaten them in the FA Cup as well this year,” Wilder acknowledged. “They’ll do that and think we should be nailed-on again. But they are an established, experienced Championship club. Look at the players they’ve got and also look at their manager.
“Make no mistake, this will be another tough game for us. We know it’s an important stage of the season and they are a good side in good form at the moment. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”