Leon Clarke has been reassured he still has a future at Bramall Lane, despite suffering a set-back in his battle for fitness.
The Sheffield United centre-forward has been plagued by ankle injuries since joining Chris Wilder’s side during the close season; a situation which prompted doctors to administer a steroid injection last week.
With James Hanson completing a £150,000 transfer from Bradford City last month, Clarke’s route back into United’s starting eleven appears to be blocked but Wilder, expressing sympathy with the 31-year-old’s predicament, said: “We brought Leon in because we needed an alternative to go through. It’s unfortunate for him because his season has been stop start with injury. He’s a good kid, he wants to do well but he’s never got going yet with injury.”
The search for that ‘alternative’ led United to Hanson’s door during the recent transfer window and, after being handed his debut against AFC Wimbledon last weekend, the former Guiseley striker scored as United climbed back to the top of the League One table.
“We like to think that we’re a flexible team,” Wilder added. “We want to be able to mix it up, especially during the second half of the season. Our front three are a real threat and they wear the opposition down.”
Clarke, who missed the visit of Neal Ardley’s side, could return to action at Peterborough this weekend. But, having been forced to sit-out training following his latest course of treatment, the forthcoming trip to Bristol Rovers is likely to be a more realistic target. A proven threat - Clarke’s games per goal average outstripped United captain Billy Sharp’s figures last term - Wilder will be loath to take unneccesary risks with a player of his quality.
“Leon’s commitment to this club is not in doubt,” he said. “He’s shown that by playing through injury in the past when he didn’t have to. He did it because he wanted to help out and wants the team to do well. That’s the measure of him.”
Meanwhile, United’s under-23’s stretched their unbeaten run to six games after beating Leeds 4-3 at Thorp Arch yesterday.
Travis Binnion’s side trailed after conceding twice in the first-half before Jake Wright reduced the deficit. Leeds were reduced to 10 men soon after and United took control, with David Brooks, Tyler Smith and captain James Wilson all writing their names on the scoresheet.