CHED EVANS took a giant stride towards the goal of re-establishing himself as a go-to striker on his first appearance at Bramall Lane in just short of 64 months.
The 29-year-old, who scored 35 goals in 2011-12, his last season wearing a Blades shirt, turned Sheffield United’s Carabao Cup tie against Walsall on it’s head after coming off the bench in the 52nd minute when United were trailing 1-0.
Boss Chris Wilder, bitterly disappointed with his players’ first-half performance in the 3-2 win, hinted that the Welshman, who only managed to play 14 minutes of United’s six pre-season friendlies due to fitness issues concerning a hip, may feature at some point in Saturday’s big test at title favourites Middlesbrough.”
“It isn’t an A team and a B team, [I] can’t have it that way,” said Wilder who confirmed that he has made an offer for Wolves defender Conor Coady who made 50 appearances for United whilst on loan from Liverpool in 2014-15.
“The players in the first half didn’t give me the problems that I want. Second half it was a lot better and [they] gave me a lot more problems [for] when I’m picking a side. Ched was at the forefront of that.”
He added: “If he carries on like that he’s going to give me a problem and I’ll be delighted if I have. We’ll look at it if he feels alright and he’s certainly not done himself any harm tonight.”
Evans raised the biggest cheer of the evening from a crowd of 5,210 when he stepped onto the pitch, replacing James Hanson who pulled a hamstring. He was only denied claiming his first goal since signing from Chesterfield in May, when a powerful drive was diverted into the net by Walsall defender Kory Roberts.
But having forced the 74th-minute equaliser, Evans went on to set up Nathan Thomas (79 min), making his debut, to fire the Blades in front before Daniel Lafferty (82) added a third. The Saddlers from League One, who defeated United three times last season, pulled a goal back from the penalty spot through Erhun Oztumer in added time.
Wilder, whilst acknowledging his team of 11 changes from Saturday’s 1-0 win against Brentford in the Championship opener, had been “chucked together”, expected far more. He described the opening 45 minutes as being “a bit like a testimonial game.”
“We weren’t good enough individually and as a team [in the] first half. I’ve said to the players in there, they’re Championship footballers now and we didn’t play like Championship footballers.
“A few harsh words and second half we were better. The introduction of a certain player [Evans] lifted the team, lifted the crowd and ultimately played a massive part in us getting through.”
The tie provided more evidence for the United boss to take to the club’s co-owners in his efforts to add quality before the transfer window closes on August 31.
“I need problems from the players,” said Wilder. “I didn’t think I got enough problems for next Friday [selecting the team to play at the Riverside the following day], or next Tuesday [away at Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City] or next Saturday before the Barnsley game. In the first half nobody pushed themselves onto me to say you can’t afford to keep me out. If we are going to move forward as a group I need players to come and have an impact on the game.”
He added: “That’s what the Championship is all about, the strength of the squad. The ones that have had an opportunity tonight need to do a bit more.
“Me and the coaching staff, and the players, have raised the bar at this football club to another level and we’re the ones that can be disappointed if players fall a little bit below that bar.
“I didn’t think we gave them [the supporters] enough to shout about tonight. It wasn’t as bad as maybe some people thought it was but it still wasn’t up to our standards.”
Former Blades loanee Conor Coady is the subject of an undisclosed bid to Wolves in an effort to return the utilty player to Bramall Lane.
Coady, meanwhile, has been an almost ever-present at Molineux since his £2million move from Huddersfield in 2015. He was signed by Kenny Jacket as a midfielder and has played under Walter Zenga, Paul Lambert and now Nuno Espirito Santo who has just switched him from right-back to a central defender in a 3-4-3 formation.
Wilder refused to expand on his move to sign the utility man. “That will be kept between the two clubs,” he said. I’m not going to talk about the player. We’ve placed a bid for him." It would seem unlikely, however, that Wolves’ Portuguese boss would be willing to part with someone who has become an integral part of his set-up unless the deal was hugely beneficial. Or that Coady would want to return to the Lane when Wolves are now widely regarded as another promotion favourite. Santo, remember, refused to sanction a further loan of defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell once United were confirmed as a Championship rival and has been sent instead to MK Dons in League One.
Coady was stand-in captain for Wolves’ 1-0 home win over Middlesbrough at the weekend. “I did it on a couple of occasions last year. To walk out at Molineux is a special feeling and gives you goosebumps,” he said. “It was a very proud moment for me and my family. To do it at Molineux was special."
Liverpool-born Cody, however, has fond memories of the Lane which if a deal is to be done will help Wilder. The 24-year-old operated in midfield during his loan from Anfield and scored six goals. He played in United’s 5-3 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Hull at Wembley.