Defender John Brayford has promised Sheffield United supporters he will be “better than ever” when he returns from a serious knee injury at Christmas.
The popular full-back, who returned to Bramall Lane on a permanent deal in January after impressing on loan the season before, damaged his knee in the first leg of United’s play-off semi-final against Swindon Town and missed the second-leg 5-5 epic, which saw United miss out on the chance of promotion.
Then-manager Nigel Clough - sacked by United on Monday - later revealed that, although he doesn’t require an operation, Brayford is expected to be out for around six months.
And the 27-year-old said: “It goes without saying that I am gutted about the injury but, to be honest, I am more gutted and upset that I couldn’t be out there against Swindon to help out my team-mates, the staff and the supporters. That’s the worst thing. But if it was going to happen at some stage of my career, then I guess I am happy it was now, while I am surrounded by these team-mates and friends.
“I will be back in no time, and I am determined to make sure that I am back better than ever.”
For Brayford, who was close to Clough, having worked under him at Burton Albion and Derby County, characters are clearly key.
“When I came back, I mentioned the fact there are like-minded people here,” he told this newspaper last season.
“There’s a good attitude about the whole place and that’s going to be key.
“These lads aren’t just my work mates. They’re also my friends.”
Brayford also places emphasis on what he calls the Sheffield United Social Club, a room at United’s Shirecliffe training base decked out at Clough’s behest.
“We’ve got the pool tables, table tennis and darts inside there,” Brayford added.
“It’s not a social club really but you do want a bit of that. I’ve been in teams where you get 30 or 40 people of all different outlooks and nationalities and there’s not camaraderie there is here.
“When you cross that white line, you take that onto the pitch. You want to dig your mates out if they make a mistake, instead of thinking: ‘I don’t really fancy it’.”
United, meanwhile, hope to unveil Clough’s successor before the end of the month. Phil Parkinson, Karl Robinson and Nigel Adkins have all been linked, with Mark Warburton - previously of Brentford - also on United’s wishlist.