There was a chance O’Connell would return for the weekend’s 1-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion. In the end, manager Chris Wilder decided not to risk the defender.
O’Connell has not played the last three matches after picking up a hamstring injury. Prior to that the 24-year-old hadn’t missed a single minute of Championship football for the Blades this season.
United travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Monday (March 4) looking to continue their promotion challenge by beating their city rivals. Whether O’Connell plays or not remains uncertain.
Strength in depth
Having O’Connell back for the trip to Hillsborough would of course be a welcome boost for the Blades. However, his potential absence is not enough to dishearten them either.
Last season it probably would have been. O’Connell played every single match for United in the club’s first campaign back in the Championship after winning League One.
They were reliant on the centre-back and his consistency helped them finish 10th in the table. In fact this current injury ended an impressive run of 106 league starts for O’Connell.
Yet Wilder knew that if the Blades were to mount a serious promotion push this term they would need to have more depth. So John Egan was signed from Brentford, while Kean Bryan and Martin Cranie also joined.
United started 2018/19 with a back three of O’Connell, Egan and Chris Basham, which seemed to be the preferred combination.
Due to injuries and suspensions, they have started the last three games with Cranie, Egan and usual left-back Enda Stevens as a makeshift centre half. The Blades have won all three fixtures and kept clean sheets in all of them.
Let’s make no mistake, O’Connell is the best defender at Bramall Lane and his presence against Wednesday would be great. But it is not vital for them to get all three points and that represents progress.