CHED EVANS’ return to Sheffield United was always going to be a gamble. Now it has emerged that the 28-year-old striker may need surgery.
The Welshman, out of the game for four years, had fitness issues when resuming his stalled career last season at Chesterfield. Despite having three full months to resolve them after agreeing a £500,000 move to re-sign for the Blades in early May, his efforts to regain match fitness have been hampered by hip and ankle problems.
Now United boss Chris Wilder has been told that Evans, who scored 35 goals for the Blades in 2011-12 before being convicted and jailed for rape (a conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal. He was found not guilty in a retrial last year), is likely to need surgery to an ankle. Not what the manager wanted to hear. It makes the last-minute arrival of 33-year-old striker Clayton Donaldson from Birmingham City as the summer transfer window was about to close, even more crucial.
Forward Caolan Lavery is recovering from injury which almost cost him the sight of an eye following a clash of heads in the recent home win against Derby. Fellow front-man Leon Clarke has still to complete a three-match suspension after being sent off against Barnsley. Prior to Donaldson’s arrival that left only Billy Sharp as a fit senior striker.
Even James Hanson, who is suffering from a hamstring problem, had his agreed £200,000 move to Scunthorpe called off because Wilder couldn't risk being another forward short in what was a frenetic final day of transfer drama. Efforts to secure the signature of Fleetwood's Devante Cole failed as both club's ran out of time to complete the paperwork.
Before rejoining the Blades, Evans last played for the Spireites, relegated to League Two, on March 4. His seventh and final goal for them was on December 10. Chesterfield manager Gary Caldwell said of the player: “He’s been unfit for the majority of my time here and it’s been a frustration that he’s not played as much as we’d have liked. But you have to accept what his body has been through.
“From not playing football it’s difficult to come in and hit the ground running for a full season. I think his body has found the effects of that difficult. I think a summer and a pre-season will help him kick on again for next season.”
Unfortunately for Evans and United that hasn’t been the case. He was ruled out of all but 17 minutes of the Blades six pre-season fixtures. Since the new campaign kicked off he has made six appearances, but just one start. Apart from having an impact against League One Walsall in the Carabao Cup to help turn the tie around, his contribution has been disappointing. Often laboured, the consensus is that he has never been fully fit.
Given that Evans had five months between last playing for Chesterfield and starting the campaign at Bramall Lane to get into shape, it is worrying. At least twice a consoling arm has been seen placed around him by coaching staff on match days.
“The majority of the fans have been brilliant with me throughout what happened,” said Evans on his return to United. “I’d like to repay them by getting back to where I was, the form I was in when I left them.”
Something is plainly amiss and if surgery is necessary to give him the opportunity, it may be some time before Blades fans can hope to see it.