Sheffield United v Blackburn Rovers '“ Everton prospect the first to join Blades promotion push

ASIDE from doing all the customary due diligence checks regarding Kieran Dowell, manager Chris Wilder could call upon first-hand experience regarding the acumen of Sheffield United's new signing.

Stepping in: Kieran Dowell has signed for Sheffield United. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The Everton midfield player’s impressive haul of 10 goals in 43 appearances during a healthy loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season included the winning goal in a 2-1 victory against his new employers at the City Ground in September, 2017.

It was a typically cool contribution from a player who is easy on the eye and can bring stylish gifts to the table, with his feats last term also including a fine hat-trick at Hull City.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The notion of bringing in good players when you are doing well as opposed to toiling is clearly not lost upon Wilder with Dowell being the first arrival of what he hopes will be a triumvirate of Championship-ready proven loan signings to harden his side’s promotion prospects.

Unitedites must wait until the home FA Cup game with Barnet next weekend for their first glimpse of Dowell in the red and white, but his arrival adds to a positive few days for the Blades.

On set-piece exponent Dowell, who can feature across the midfield and in the No 10 role, Wilder said: “He has had games in the Championship, which is crucial for us – and at a good club, an expectant club, with Nottingham Forest, with good support.

“When you see players in the same division on loan you keep a track of them and keep an eye on their progression. He is a player we have admired for quite a long time.

“He had a good pre-season and played for England Under-21s. It is an achievement to get in that squad as there are good players all over.

George Baldock of Sheffield Utd (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

“He was close to getting in their (Everton’s) first team, but then they brought in some players and that pushed him down the pecking order. We tried in the summer, but there was no joy. Then the door opened.

“We do the character angle, but, from a football angle, does he add to the group? The two or three we are looking to bring in have got to add. That does not mean they are going straight in. They have still got to earn a place and take a jersey off a good player.

“Good players have got to expect competition and rise to the occasion. While it is a team game, individuals have to raise their games as well. We have to raise our game in the second half of the season. The players we want are good characters and will add.”

Dowell had been strongly linked with a move to Rangers with several other clubs also said to be interested.

But a strong pitch from the Blades, allied to several eye-catching performances already this season, helped entice Dowell to South Yorkshire.

Wilder added: “We have always had to work hard, to meet people, to talk and show. One good thing is that our performances get covered very well nationally.

“Kieran has obviously seen how we play and he has enjoyed it. The coverage has not done us any harm.”

After the arrival of Dowell focus has quickly shifted to this afternoon’s Roses encounter with Blackburn Rovers where a home victory would sign off a vibrant week and another year of progress for the Blades, whose star remains in the ascendancy.

After the adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere and high-octane performance from those in United jerseys in a Boxing Day to remember against Derby County the onus is on the Blades to provide something resembling an encore.

As with Derby, Blackburn suffered a brutal afternoon three days ago, losing out in an incredible finale at Leeds United after conceding two goals deep in stoppage-time.

Time well tell whether Rovers’ psychological scars have healed, with Wilder and his side not in the business of affording clemency.

He said: “When we play well we are a dangerous side for anyone. The players were focused before and during the (Boxing Day) game as well. It was as good an afternoon as I can remember. Supporters are not daft. They can feel that just as much as myself and the players.

“Bramall Lane is a special place for any game in my eyes, but when it is like that, with the fans, it is a difficult place to get a result.

“We have got, what, 11 home games left? They come pretty quick and they go pretty quick.

“We have been disappointed with the draws against Stoke City and Sheffield Wednesday, which we definitely should have won. But we want that support to (help) be the dominant force at home.”

As results go, United’s victory at Ewood Park in the reverse fixture on October 3 stands among the club’s best this season with a 2-0 win inflicting a first home league defeat upon Blackburn in almost 13 months.

As with the Blades in 2017-18, Rovers have enjoyed an authoritative return to the Championship, and Wilder sees similarities between the pair.

Wilder said: “They have got good players and threats at the top of the pitch. They were really unfortunate to go down (in 2016-17). If (manager) Tony (Mowbray) had another week or two I think they would have stayed up as their results at the end of the relegation year were play-off form.

“Historically they are a powerful club. There are quite a lot of similarities between us.

“They did not have a struggle straight away this season and went in and enjoyed it from the off.

“Winning there was a big night for us. We had a good week.

“We’d had a big game on the Saturday because I remember talking to the players saying we have got to back that result up with another big one.

“It was a very solid, good, all-round performance.”