DAVID BROOKS last night forced his way into Chris Wilder’s Championship reckoning with another eye-catching performance as leading club scouts circled at Bramall Lane.
Voted player of the competition when a young England side lifted the Toulon Tournament trophy in June, Brooks who turned 20 earlier this month, is attracting the attention of Premier League clubs as well as from abroad, hence a strong presence.
He didn’t disappoint and it is surely only a matter of time before United will face bids to prise him away. After coming on in the 65th minute, replacing Caolan Lavery, the youngster ensured five out five pre-season wins for a buoyant Sheffield United in dramatic fashion, this time against star-studded Premier League side Stoke City starting with nine internationals. Defender Kurt Zouma, on loan from Chelsea, made his debut for the Potters. Former England striker Peter Crouch and Saido Berahino came on in the second half, the latter replacing Bojan Krikc who numbers Barcelona, Inter Milan and Roma amongst the clubs he has played for.
Brooks clinched it with almost the last kick of the match watched by 7,092. A well-taken strike inside the box from Kieron Freeman’s lay-off, taking his tally to three goals for the Blades in warm-up fixtures.
Skipper Billy Sharp scored a poacher’s goal to give United a 10th minute lead punishing Ryan Shawcross for a schoolboy defensive error. Xherdan Shaqiri, formerly of Bayern Munich and Inter who has 62 caps and scored 20 goals for Switzerland, finished an incisive move down United’s right-hand side in the second half to level before Brooks’ late intervention. Stoke manager Mark Hughes was impressed by the Blades. “It was a good game for us, they tested us physically more than any other side in pre-season, which is what we expected and wanted,” he said. “They are an accomplished side who are playing with confidence having won promotion last season and they pressed us hard.”
United looked assured in possession against what was always going to be the toughest test of their pre-season program. “It’s something we talk about,” said Alan Knill, United's No2. “We are at our best when we have the ball. We’re attacking and forward thinking.
“Sometimes it’s difficult like tonight against great opposition You don’t get the opportunity to get it back a lot but when you do it’s important to do something with it and I thought we did really well. I still think we can be better but it was a good test for us and a different test for us.”
United were last defeated in January but there has been some concern amongst fans that of their six additions to the squad in preparation for the Championship all but one has come from the lower leagues.
“Everyone has told us we’re going to a different level but we believe in the players,” said Knill. “We believed in them last year to get us out of the division [League One] and we believe in them this year to do well in the division above. They’ve earned the right to have a go. We obviously want to add players and we have done to make the squad stronger. So far it’s gone well pre-season so we’re delighted.”
Wilder was guarded when asked about his plans for Brooks after watching him help set-up both goals in United’s 2-1 win at Rotherham last week. But Knill was more forthcoming last night.
“I place him right in the squad,” he said. “Last year he was just on the outside and hoping towards the end of the season to get a game but we were chasing 100 points and we couldn’t risk playing different players. We wanted to keep faith with those who had got us there.
“This year he has come back fit and strong and had a great tournament with England behind him. His confidence is really high. He just doesn’t look out of place. Towards the end of last season he was so close to playing. He was excellent in training and the players all recognise what a talent we’ve got. He may give the ball away but when he gets it he’s got something different.”
On returning from international duty Brooks was loaned to Chesterfield as part of the deal which saw striker Ched Evans’ £500,000 return to the Lane. But Wilder and Knill soon changed their minds and Louis Reed is now getting game time with the Spireites.
Knill added: “We’re not surprised that he [Brooks] went with England and did really well. It’s a great problem for us. We thought for his education it was [good] for him to go and play but he came back with such great form that, no, [we thought] he can do a job for us.
“The good thing about him it doesn’t phase him. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against, he’s just going to go and play. That’s why we think he’ll be a benefit to us this season.”
John Lundstram's move from Oxford United to Bramall Lane has finally been completed.
Knill explained that 23-year-old former Oxford captain John Lundstram, pictured, who completed his move to United earlier in the day, has been brought in specifically to put pressure on the club’s star pairing in midfield.
“He adds competition to central mid which we’ve been looking for,” explained the United No2. Obviously we’ve got [Paul] Coutts and [John] Fleck but behind that we haven’t really got anything and we just thought we needed more competition. John’s come in today and will add that.”
Lundstram started his career at Everton, being loaned out to six clubs including Doncaster Rovers, until he found a permanent home at the Kassam Stadium. “We like the fact that he’s been at a bigger club, gone out and had to graft [in] League Two, League One and progress,” said Knill. “We think he can progress probably all the way.”
Goalkeeper Simon Moore, carried off with a knee injury at Rotherham, is not as badly hurt as was first feared but Knill was unable to say that he will be fit enough to start the season a week on Saturday. “We’ve had the scan back and it’s better than we expected but we still can’t put a time frame on it,” he said.
The Blades have stepped up their efforts to find another goalkeeper. Youngster Jake Eastwood who played last night and, as he did at the New York Stadium when replacing Moore, acquitted himself well. Little known youth Jim Pollard deputised on the bench last night.
But Wilder doesn’t see Eastwood as quite ready to be an understudy for Moore in the Championship. Asked as to what progress was being made in the search for another keeper, Knill said: “We’re not there yet.”
UNITED: Eastwood, Stevens, Fleck, O'Connell, Basham, Sharp (Clarke 65), Coutts, Freeman, Stearman, Lavery (Brooks 65), Carruthers (Duffy 59). Unused: Thomas, Bennett, Wright, Lafferty, Pollard.
STOKE: Grant, Johnson (Edwards,69), Pieters (Tymon,69) Shawcross (Muniesa,80), Zouma (Crouch,46), Fletcher (Adam,80) Cameron (Wollscheid,80), Shaqiri (Diouf,73), Allen (Imbula,80), Ramadan, Berahino (Bojan,73). Unused: Haugaard.
Referee: Darren Deadman.