Sheffield United interim manager Paul Heckingbottom is “not counting” on Jack O’Connell returning this season.
O’Connell has played just twice for the Blades in 2020/21, last featuring back on September 21.
It was decided after that appearance that the defender needed to have surgery for an ongoing knee problem.
It was initially thought O’Connell would miss the rest of the campaign as a result. But then former boss Chris Wilder hinted at an earlier return.
This hope was further boosted when there was footage of O’Connell training – before the 27-year-old suffered a setback.
Although his return won’t save United from relegation now, most fans would probably like to see the centre-back in action before the season is out.
Sheffield United boss gives update on Jack O’Connell
Heckingbottom has all but dashed any hopes of seeing O’Connell in a Blades jersey before the end of the campaign.
“Jack at the minute is still going through a process,” the 43-year-old told Yorkshire Live.
“It would be unfair to Jack and the medical team to say we need him back for this date. He will be led to how he responds to his treatment and I think that’s the most sensible way.
“When you have been out for that length of time it’s about getting it right, rather than getting it done quickly.
“I am not counting on Jack being back. You would be silly to do that. But what we will do is give him every opportunity.
“If we can get him back on the training ground and get him minutes – whether that’s in first team games or a friendly game, building up his confidence – then we will do that. But we will be led on that with how he does with his rehab, because it’s been two steps back to start moving forward.
“He’s still a way from those minutes in getting any game time.”
Another blow for the Blades
Although the club’s problems this term can’t be solely blamed on the absence of O’Connell, it certainly hasn’t helped.
He was one of their star performers in 2019/20 as the South Yorkshire side finished ninth in their first Premier League season in 12 years.
O’Connell played every minute of United’s 29 league games before lockdown, eventually featuring 33 times in the top flight.
He helped them to the fourth best defensive record in the entire division and there was genuine talk of an England call-up.
Without O’Connell this time around, the Blades have slumped to the bottom of the table. Only Southampton and West Bromwich Albion have conceded more than them.
Having O’Connell back fit and ready for a return to the Championship next term could be vital in mounting a promotion push.