Chris Wilder says Ched Evans’ decision to postpone an operation on his injured ankle as Sheffield United battle through a selection crisis underlines the character of Bramall Lane’s first team squad.
Evans could be forced to start Sunday’s Steel City derby at Hillsborough after five centre-forwards, including captain Billy Sharp and new signing Clayton Donaldson, were declared unavailable for selection against Norwich City last weekend.
Despite acknowledging Evans requires surgery to repair a problem which, for the past few weeks at least, has seen him play in constant pain, Wilder said: “He could easily have told us ‘I need an operation’ and not put himself on show. Players get judged when they put a shirt on and go out there. That’s what people see.
“Quite easily, Ched could have said ‘I am only going to play when I am close to being 90 per cent fit.’ That’s what you see a lot of players doing these days. I’m not being critical of them but it does tell you what the lads is about. What he’s prepared to do for the fans, the club and his team mates.”
Wilder’s diminishing band of strikers is a major cause for concern ahead of this weekend’s meeting with Wednesday. Not least because it could force United to tweak the 3-5-2 system which propelled them to the League One title last season and has proved a success again this term. With Caolan Lavery and James Hanson definitely ruled-out, Evans is expected to be tasked with spearheading their attack despite, Wilder acknowledged, operating at around “50 to 60 per cent” of his potential.
“For him to stick his hand up and play 90 minutes, I just think that epitomises what the players are all about,” the United manager continued. “Ched’s not anywhere near where he can be and, obviously, needs an operation.
“We were already down in that position and then to lose three more in the space of seven days was a big blow. But he’s shown what he’s prepared to do for the cause and deserves the utmost credit for that.”
United slipped to their first home defeat in league competition since January when they lost 1-0 to Norwich. But they will make the short journey across Sheffield hoping to secure a third successive away win following victories over Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers.
Nevertheless, with Sharp and Donaldson scoring all but two of the second Championship goals they have scored this season, Wilder is desperate to have at least one at his disposal for the biggest match of their campaign so far. Leon Clarke could also return to action after United reported he was receiving treatment for a minor hamstring problem.
“We can’t afford to take risks,” Wilder said. “The lads will be working hard.”