Chesterfield v Sheffield United: Familiar faces greet Leon Clarke as he bids to make up for lost time

FOR THE more observant supporters out there, tomorrow afternoon is not exclusively about just one striker facing his former employers at the Proact Stadium.

BACK IN THE FRAME: Sheffield United striker, Leon Clarke  Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage.
BACK IN THE FRAME: Sheffield United striker, Leon Clarke Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage.

Granted, it has not stopped the pre-match preliminaries being hogged by Chesterfield forward Ched Evans’s reunion day with Sheffield United, who he was playing for when jailed in the spring of 2012 for a rape offence – only for the conviction to be quashed earlier this year with a retrial finding him not guilty.

Making predictions ahead of derbies can be foolhardly. But here is one nailed-on certainty.

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Namely that the national TV cameras will focus on Evans before, during and after tomorrow’s clash of near-neighbours, regardless of the scoreline.

KEEP IT UP: Sheffield United manager, Chris Wilder. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

By contrast, the glare of the spotlight will stay away from visiting forward and ex-Chesterfield frontman Leon Clarke – just the way he likes it.

The quietly-spoken Midlander is starting to make strides again after being stymied by a nagging ankle problem.

While injuries are an occupational hazard, they are particulrly frustrating when they occur while you are still settling into a new place of work.

That happened to the much-travelled striker in September, with an ankle issue laying him low for two months before he made an unheralded return from the bench amid a sparse crowd in the backwater confines of the Checkatrade Trophy at Grimsby Town on Wednesday.

KEEP IT UP: Sheffield United manager, Chris Wilder. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The fates are such that Clarke is now seeking to continue his comeback against a former footballing stop in Chesterfield, where he enjoyed a prolific loan spell at during the 2010-11 season.

Aiming to make up for lost time, Clarke, whose last league appearance came back on September 10, said: “It has been really frustrating because initially I did not realise the injury was as serious as it was.

“I didn’t really put a marker on when I would be back. I left it to the medical staff. Lots of people around the city were asking me, but I did not put a date on it because I knew if there was a set-back, then I would be out for even longer and I didn’t want that.

“It is nice to be over the worst of it now and back out there again.

“That is why I asked to play the other night. They (coaching staff) took some persuading, but I had itchy feet and I know, with the strikers we have got here, that I need to be out there getting minutes under my belt.

“All the strikers have different attributes that we can bring to the team which is nice for the manager if he wants to rotate and use different personnel.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time there at Chesterfield. I was in a bit of a difficult period of my career and John Sheridan took me there and it was a good spell.”

While Clarke and Evans renew acquaintances with their old sides, the derby stakes are given further piquancy by the sight of former Blades manager Danny Wilson and Lane legend Chris Morgan in the home dug-out.

Chesterfield’s current league malaise may be fully occupying their attentions, but you can rest assured that victory tomorrow would be somewhat sweet for the pair if that eventuality arises, even if they would never profess as much in public.

The form book hardly points to a home win tomorrow, with the Spireites toiling in the bottom echelons of the table and having suffered six defeats in their past seven league outings.

In contrast, United are riding a crest of a wave on the back of an 11-match unbeaten league sequence. But while Wilder is street-smart to the potential banana-skin nature of tomorrow’s fixture, he is rest assured on one thing.

Namely his Blades side and those supporting from the stands are finally back on the same page following a reconnection progress, with the trepidation that has periodically dogged the club during their time in the third tier having now dissipated – perhaps for the first time since the club missed out on automatic promotion under Wilson in 2010-11.

Wilder said: “I don’t see the supporters heaping pressure on us, although there is an expectation on us. I think they are inspiring us and we recognise the support they are giving us, in terms of what it is doing to the players – giving them the confidence to go and play.

“You see at certain clubs – and it happened last year (here) – that there is a fear factor with the players.

“They did not want to get on the ball and take chances and we are a risky team.

“We want them to take risk in the right areas and try things and be positive.”