JAMAL BLACKMAN has up to six weeks to make Sheffield United’s No1 jersey his own.
Boss Chris Wilder made it clear that the 6ft 6ins goalkeeper’s future is in his own hands as the Blades prepare for their first Championship match at Bramall Lane since April 30, 2011. But the loanee from Chelsea who has trained alongside Thiabaut Courtois and Petr Cech (now Arsenal), has already made a big impression on his new manager.
“I told him what the situation was, there weren’t any guarantees and he was prepared to fight that out which I think is fantastic,” said Wilder whose only misgiving maybe a diamond stud in the big keeper’s ear.
Blackman’s loan move from the Premier League champions quickly followed injury to regular No1 Simon Moore. He underwent an operation earlier this week on a knee after being carried off in United’s pre-season friendly at Rotherham. Moore, signed from Cardiff last August and popular at the Lane, is expected to need between four and six weeks to recover.
But just as there is no guarantee for Blackman, there isn’t one for Moore either. Wilder’s philosophy of if you play well you keep the shirt is well known, giving Blackman, who has been on the manager’s radar for 12 months, a golden opportunity to cement his position in the team.
“We want someone that we feel can come in and compete for No1,” said Wilder. “I’ve never been under the thought process of number one or a number two. It’s a massive position. Obviously the player in possession of the jersey has got to play well to be in the side and if he doesn’t and he has a couple of bad games, from any position, then you open it up. “That’s what we’re after. We’re after strength in depth and we want competition all over the pitch.”
The 23-year-old will have a lot to prove if he is to displace Moore who is regarded highly by manager and fans alike. Blackman’s only senior experience of English league football was gained at League Two Wycombe Wanderers during a season-long loan last year. After making 52 appearances he was voted Young Player of the Year at Adams Park. He also played, again on loan, for Middlesbrough in a League Cup tie at Liverpool three years ago, scoring from the spot against Anfield Keeper Simon Mignolet, as Boro were beaten in a penalty shoot-out.
Matt Done, transfer-listed at the end of last season, has rejoined Rochdale.
“Jamal will start,” added Wilder. “Jake [Eastwood] has done fantastically well. Jake is a young goalkeeper but it was always our priority to go and get Jamal right from the start. We knew a lot about him last year.
“He could have possibly gone into League One and played 46 games but his next step after a fantastic season for Wycombe was to go and prove himself in the Championship and we feel he will do.”
Striker’s Ched Evans, who managed to play just 14 minutes of United’s six-match pre-season program, James Hanson and Simon Baldock have resumed training following injury but are not expected to be considered for the visit of Brentford.
Matt Done, pictured above, hugely popular at the Lane for his tireless workmate if not for his strike rate, has returned to Rochdale, the club United signed the forward from in early 2015. Done lost his first team place at the turn of the year and was transfer-listed at the end of the season.
As is right-back John Brayford, pictured below, loaned to Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion last season. Brayford still has a year remaining of his lucrative three-and-a-half-year contract which breaks the new pay structure set when Wilder succeeded Nigel Adkins 15 months ago.
Sacked Blades boss Clough, who signed Brayford at the Lane, is playing a cat-and-mouse game with United to return him to the Pirelli Stadium. The size of the players wages is causing problems for both clubs hence the delay in shipping Brayford out.
Transfer-listed John Brayford has been told by boss Chris Wilder he is not wanted at Bramall Lane.
Wilder said: “He understands his future’s not here but if the window shuts and he hasn’t moved, the deal's not right for us, then he’s in with us. I’m not just going to isolate him, he’ll be part of the group.”
Looking ahead to what will almost be a party atmosphere among fans at Bramall Lane as the Blades step out against Brentford, Wilder added: “It’s a great reward for their perseverance, their belief and love for the football club. They’ve never wavered from that.
“There’s has obviously been a lot of moans and groans over the last six years [in League One] but the numbers have not really changed. The away following has not really changed and their desire to push the club on has been phenomenal.
“We’re going into something unknown, really. We think we’ve got a competitive group and as I’ve said I’d like to add to it.
“If we do get the bounce of the ball and stay clear of injuries I think we can upset a few people and do well.”