Sheffield United goalkeeper Jamal Blackman faces an uncertain future, but all he cares about is helping the Blades gatecrash the play-offs.
The 24-year-old – on a season-long loan from Premier League side Chelsea – was man of the match in the Blades’ frustrating draw with Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
In a game played at times in a snow blizzard it was a wonder that neither side conceded a howler.
But Blackman impressed, showing the qualities which may tempt Blades boss Chris Wilder to try to make the move permanent in the summer.
That, obviously, will depend on what division United are operating in next season.
But for now, Blackman – on loan at Wycombe Wanderers last term – is concentrating on getting the Blades into the top six.
I’m not laying it on them, not at all. But I bet, at most of the top-six clubs, if someone is winning a man-of-the-match award then the chances are it’s going to be one of the lads up top.Chris Wilder
“We all try and play in the here and now,” he said. “That’s what I am doing, coming back from injury.
“Trying to get back in the team has been my main focus, get in the play-offs, and try and do the best I can this season.
“Then we will see what happens after that. That’s my main goal.
“This is such a great team, we have great players, play well and show what we can do.
“That’s shocked a lot of people, and we have shown people we can get there (promotion).
“Coming from Chelsea it’s great for me getting the experience to build my career.”
Both goalkeepers – Blackman and Costel Pantilimon in the Forest net – were the outstanding players for their sides.
Blackman thwarted Kieran Dowell – after some slick Forest approach work found the Everton loanee near the penalty spot – and the loose ball just evaded the on-rushing Ben Brereton.
The goalkeeper then had to throw himself to his right to tip away Daryl Murphy’s deft flick for a corner.
The best of the lot saw Blackman deny Brereton’s close-range header, Jack Colback firing the rebound wide.
United’s goals have dried up in recent weeks and Saturday was another poor day in front of goal.
The Blades have failed to score in four of their last six games, Saturday’s two dropped points seeing them miss the chance to move level on points with sixth-placed Middlesbrough.
The significance of Blackman’s man-of-the-match award was not lost on Wilder.
“We went for it and we’ll keep going for it,” he said. “In the big games your forward players need to be winning the man-of-the-match award not the goalkeeper.
“I’m not laying it on them, not at all. But I bet at most of the top-six clubs if someone is winning a man-of-the-match award then the chances are it’s going to be one of the lads up top.”
If United are to reach the play-offs they need to rediscover their cutting edge.
Leon Clarke, back in the side after missing three games with a niggling hamstring, had scored 14 goals by early December. But the 33-year-old has netted just once – on New Year’s Day at Derby County – in his last 14 games.
He should have doubled his tally for 2018 early in Saturday’s contest. Having already seen a header kept out by Pantilimon, Clarke will wonder how he did not score.
The striker ghosted in at the back post, but from four yards out he headed the ball back across goal. The ball rolled to safety leaving Clarke on his backside and over the goal-line.
It would prove to be United’s best chance, although midfielder John Fleck forced Pantilimon into a full-stretch save, parrying away his 20-yard effort in the second half.
Blackman, though, has faith in United’s front men to deliver as they embark on the final eight games of the season.
“The win was the main thing, but we still got a point and didn’t lose the game,” said Blackman. “We also kept a clean sheet, so good progression.
“In the slippery conditions it wasn’t easy. The ball was slippery, people were slipping a lot, and there has to be a lot more concentration goes into it.
“In every game, especially at home, you want to shut out teams and dominate. Conditions weren’t the best and it could have gone either way.
“We did well to keep the clean sheet and we were unfortunate not to put the ball in the back of the net.
“We have great strikers, people like Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke, who have done well for us. We are not lacking up front, just waiting for it to fit into place.
“We are still very optimistic we can score goals. Obviously in the last couple of games we have had many opportunities, and before that we have been scoring.
“We are just trying to find the right flow and get back to how we were before. We need to build on these clean sheets and keep moving forward.
“We go away from this draw feeling like it’s a defeat. We can take that into upcoming games.”
Sheffield United: Blackman, Leonard (Holmes 71), Stearman, O’Connell, Baldock, Evans, Duffy (Donaldson 81) , Fleck, Stevens, Clarke, Sharp (Brooks 60). Unused substitutes: Moore, Lundstram, Wright, Lafferty.
Nottingham Forest: Pantilimon, Darikwa, Figueiredo, Fox, Osborn, Cash (Vellios 90), Colback, Watson, Dowell (Lolley 62), Murphy (Tomlin 74), Brereton. Unused substitutes: Worrall, Kapino, Mancienne, Guedioura.
Referee: P Tierney (Lancashire).