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John Fleck will be crucial if Sheffield United are to complete a great escape

Sheffield United fans would have gasped as John Fleck sent a left-footed shot wide of the post against Manchester City at the weekend,

It was the best chance for the Blades in an eventual 1-0 defeat in which opportunities were limited.

While they slipped to a 17th defeat in 21 Premier League games this season, this moment offered a glimmer of hope.

Having picked up just two points from their first 17 top flight fixtures, United have now won four of their last seven in all competitions.

This included a shock 2-1 victory at Old Trafford last week. Fleck was excellent in that win against Manchester United too, reminding everyone how important a player he is when in form.

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The midfielder scored five goals in 2019/20, including the winner against Aston Villa and equaliser at Arsenal. It helped the South Yorkshire team to their highest league position since 1992 in their first Premier League campaign in 12 years.

Fleck’s driving runs forwards were a key component in a well-oiled machine. Yet this term it disappeared.

Injury didn’t help, keeping Fleck out of action for four matches. But the spark seemed to have gone from the 29-year-old’s game.

This coincided with a serious downturn in results, as manager Chris Wilder struggled to find a functioning combination in midfield.

Wilder publicly criticised Fleck for his mistake in the build-up to Jamie Vardy’s 90th minute winner in a 2-1 home defeat to Leicester City on December 9.

After such a successful return to the top flight, the Blades and the Scotland international were seemingly drifting back to the Championship without a fight.

John Fleck is key for Sheffield United

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January 9 was an important day for the club, but was one that would have gone largely unnoticed beyond their loyal support.

United won 3-2 at Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup third round. A narrow victory against a League One side is maybe nothing to shout about, but it was the Blades’ first win of 2020/21.

Fleck started the game having been a peripheral figure over the Christmas period and assisted Oli Burke’s first goal for the club.

Three days later, the Blades secured their first league victory of the season by beating Newcastle United. Wins against Plymouth Argyle and Man United have since followed.

Fleck has been in the starting XI for all of them, growing in confidence and also providing two more assists.

John Lundstram and Ollie Norwood have also started alongside the Scot during that time, with Wilder reuniting the midfield trio which served him so well last term.

With 13 points separating the bottom-placed Blades and safety, a great escape to avoid relegation still seems highly unlikely.

Yet with Fleck apparently back to his all-action best, they should at least make a serious go of it.

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