Sander Berge to miss Sheffield United's FA Cup quarter-final despite Norway call-up
The midfielder has not played since suffering a freak hamstring injury against Manchester United in December, and it will be April before he plays what seem likely to be his final games for the South Yorkshire club, whose Premier League relegation now looks inevitable.
There is, though, something still to play for in the FA Cup and although the hope is that David McGoldrick might be back from the injury which kept him out of last week's 5-0 defeat at Leicester City, John Egan and Berge will not be back until after the international break.
“Didzy (McGoldrick) has trained, which is good for us,” revealed caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom. “We’ll monitor him and see how he’ll come through it.
“Eags has been out on the grass today (Friday), first steps. He’s got a big two weeks during the international break.
“Sander isn’t fit. It’s going to be a while before he’s back playing football. He can continue rehabbing and progressing away from here, because that’s what he’s been doing anyway.
“We need players back injury-wise. Jack Rodwell is still quite a bit away. I’ve just asked for dates rather than injury updates. Jack will be back at the end of the season.”
After the weekend there will be no more Premier League football until Easter, and for those who get one, Heckingbottom believes the change of scenery will do them good after a traumatic week which saw the departure of manager Chris Wilder after five years in charge.
“It’s fantastic for the boys involved,” said Heckingbottom. “They hear a different voice and see different things. It shows the split in the squad, that we’ve got some great senior players and also some really young lads who can be talents for years to come. The environment in there is really good and, if we invest in the things that need investing in, there’s no reason why in three or four years some of them can’t be regulars.”
The statement announcing Wilder's departure talked about more opportunities for young players and sure enough, Heckingbottom handed 21-year-old midielder Iliman N'Diaye a debut from the bench at the King Power Stadium.
“I can honestly say I forgot it was Iliman’s debut,” said Heckingbottom,, whose day job has been managing the under-23s. “He’s trained well and done well for me. That’s why I put him on.
“The Covid regs have meant we’ve had to split things down the middle, so that’s limited opportunities. We’ve built a bridge though, and there might be even more. Who knows?
“They have responded well and we’ve tried to put demands on them. There’s two choices - roll up your sleeves and take it on or just wish the season away. There’s no other choice than that.”
If a change of scenery is needed by some, a return to routine is what is required for veteran defender Phil Jagielka whose brother Steve – a former Blade – died this week aged just 43. With Ethan Ampadu ineligible because he is on loan from Chelsea, he could be needed.
“Jags is wanting normality,” commented Heckingbottom. “As a team and a staff, we just want to be there for him. He wants the focus on the football and I ask that of you guys as well because we don’t know what he’s going through. He wants to be left alone about it if I’m honest.”
Sunday's FA Cup tie will be played to a conclusion, with extra-time and penalties if needed.
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