Sheffield United V Aston Villa: Back from the brink and ready to shock the Villa

When you have cheated death on the operating table, a relegation fight and an FA Cup third round tie against Premier League opposition who qualified for Europe last season offer little to worry about.

So says Sheffield United midfielder Lee Williamson, who just seven months ago spent two days on a life support machine after serious complications developed during routine back surgery

The 28-year-old had gone under the surgeon's scalpel for a third time when the problems arose and the situation became so grave that then Blades manager Kevin Blackwell admitted afterwards: "Lee is a very lucky lad to be alive."

Now, happily fit again following the ordeal that almost cost Williamson his life, the former Rotherham United midfielder is back playing and looking forward to taking on Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round today.

He does, however, admit that had the life-threatening operation not been successful then quitting the game would have been his preferred option.

Williamson, who joined the Blades from Watford in a 500,000 deal two years ago, said: "Apparently, it was touch and go. All I know is that I went in for what was supposed to be a straightforward operation, but contracted an infection during surgery and it all went wrong from there.

"I had a bulging disc in my back, which is quite a common problem for footballers, so I didn't think anything about going into hospital to have it cured.

"Obviously, I was out of it at the time, but it became a big worry when there were complications because it got infected.

"I guess I am lucky to have come through it – and now I know I would rather call it a day than risk more surgery.

"Certainly, if this latest operation had not solved the problem then I definitely would not be keen to go under the knife again.

"Fortunately, though, I have been told there is no long-term damage and, after getting back into action with two games over the festive period, I reckon I am about 80 per cent of the way back to peak fitness. Another five or six games, and I will be fully match-fit."

Williamson returned to the United starting line-up on New Year's Day when Micky Adams's first game as manager ended in a 4-2 defeat to Burnley. He also started two days later as the Blades fought back from two goals down to rescue a point in a dramatic south Yorkshire derby against Doncaster Rovers at Bramall Lane.

Today, it is Villa who are in Williamson's sights as Gerard Houllier battles to save his job after the Midlands club slipped into the relegation zone following their dismal 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland on Wednesday night.

Houllier has won only five of his 19 games at the Villa helm to leave the Blades with the scent of a Cup shock in their nostrils.

Williamson said: "This just might be a good time to play Villa because they are not in a good spell at the moment. We know it is going to be a tough test for us but, yes, it is certainly 'do-able' to beat them.

"If we need any proof of that, then all we have to do is look at what Blackpool are doing to Premier League teams this season. They are beating them all over the place, yet no-one gave them a chance of doing that when they won promotion at the end of last season. So there is no reason why we cannot take a leaf out of their book and beat Villa."

This season's struggles for Villa, who expect to include former Blades full-back Kyle Walker in their starting line-up today following his loan move from Spurs, are in stark contrast to last term when Martin O'Neill's side finished sixth in the Premier League, a dip in fortunes that Williamson puts down to a change in attitude at Villa Park.

He declared: "If people have not got the right attitude and don't go into games believing they can win them, then that can spread through the team and you end up with problems."

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