APPROACHING a crossroads in his career, Scott Hogan had plenty to contemplate as he drove over the Pennines this week on a route towards Sheffield that he has travelled many times before.
The Salfordian can recollect regularly driving across from his north-west home in the early days of his career during a stint at non-league outfit Stocksbridge Park Steels, as he clocked up the miles in his quest to put himself on the radar of league scouts.
A circuitous route has now seen him return to the north at Sheffield United following time at Brentford and Aston Villa after making his name in the league at Rochdale.
The forward is confident he is on the right road again after speaking to Chris Wilder – a manager who paid his dues in non-league and lower-division circles just as Hogan has done in his playing days – and seeing his respect for a group of players who have also earned success the hard way.
Do not expect him to get lost on his way to training either.
On returning to familiar Steel City territory, Hogan, who has joined from Villa for the rest of the season on loan, said: “I came up on Tuesday on the night I signed and was driving back through and turned to my agent and said, ‘I remember this path and it reminds me of somewhere’ and I looked down and it was the turn-off for Stocksbridge.
“I said, ‘I used to play down there’ and he said, ‘Yes, I know; I remember.’
“I do know the roads and the area, sort of. It was a long time ago, but I am familiar with Sheffield, shall we say.
“Every one (player) is similar here too. I have played with lads here who are similar to me and I know a couple of lads who have come from non-league and it is similar backgrounds and it just works.
“There is a culture that works on and off the pitch and you can see that.
“The manager has sort of done that (through non-league) as well and that was maybe behind his thinking in that he knows what he is going to get from lads like myself.”
After his early career experiences at Bracken Moor it is at Bramall Lane where Hogan has found sanctuary after a tough time in the Midlands at Villa.
Saddled with a £12m price tag after joining from Brentford in the January window just over two years ago, the 26-year-old netted just once in an unlucky opening 13 games for the claret and blue.
An injury-hit 2017-18 compounded matters and events have got worse, if anything, this season, with the forward having made just six Championship appearances from the bench so far.
Understandably, a move to Sheffield was a lifeline that Hogan was keen to grasp, having been handed a watching brief as to his new side’s acumen earlier this season following first-hand experience in 2017-18.
Hogan was looking on from the stands in Villa’s 4-1 thrashing at Bramall Lane in early autumn and while he started from the off in the visitors’ 1-0 win at S2 a year ago, results can be deceptive.
By common consent it was an occasion when the Midland club donned the equivalent of a highwayman’s mask to pilfer a scarcely-deserved late victory.
The Blades’ trademark relentlessness and insatiable spirit – and no little quality – was firmly in evidence on that day, just as it was last September.
This prowess is something that has resonated across the Championship grapevine, according to Hogan.
“I have been away on international duty with the Republic of Ireland and a lot of the lads sit down and talk to those from Sheffield United and they are saying, ‘I hate playing you, we have got you next week’,” Hogan added.
“I think it is just the way they play, with the enthusiasm, energy and hard work. It does not defeat you before the game as maybe some teams have lads with better ability, but they do not want to do what the lads here do.
“I played here last year at Villa and we snuck a 1-0 and we got absolutely battered and I don’t think we saw the ball all game. It was just a bit of magic at the end and we won it.
“They are one of the teams you don’t look forward to playing and I am sure 99 per cent of the lads playing in this league will vouch for that.
“There are no egos or anything like that here. That is the best thing about it. The fact the players run the extra yard for each other is something you notice when you are playing them.
“I have watched teams with big egos and I do not like seeing it. But here you see the lads will go that bit extra for each other and it pays dividends in the end and they will end up running you into the ground or score four or five past you.
“I know they did it to Villa earlier this season and they absolutely destroyed them.”