CHED EVANS is paid to score goals. He hasn’t done that since 2016. Even if you allow for a career interrupted by four years, the associated stress and strain of serving jail time along with the subsequent successful fight to clear his name in a retrial after being wrongly convicted of rape and the original verdict quashed, it isn’t anywhere near good enough.
The Welshman’s attitude is unquestioned by those who work with him which given his frustration is to his credit. But the record shows he wasn’t much help to Chesterfield as they were relegated to League Two. The striker’s contribution on the pitch since returning to Sheffield United a year ago has been minimal. That is putting it kindly. Not forgetting his record at Championship level during his first spell for United was poor to below average.
Despite all of this the 29-year-old’s position at Bramall Lane anticipated by many as leading the front line but instead has been largely limited, apparently, to being a positive vocal influence in the dressing room, appears more solid than that of his boss Chris Wilder at the moment. Why is that?
The memory of 35 goals scored over a golden ten months in the third tier of English football six years ago. The thinking being he might recreate some of that spectacular form.
Conspiracy theories aside, he also met the unambitious, hit-and-hope penny-pinching outlook United’s owners demonstrated after a return to the Championship was secured. At £500,000 for the man who cost United £3million when he first arrived at the Lane from Manchester City, he’s relatively cheap.
The same small-minded, restrictive and, as we now know, politically motivated policy which is one of the fundamental reasons that has led a man with all the capabilities of becoming United’s greatest manager, to threaten to resign.
It is inconceivable that Wilder, or whoever is in charge, is going to rebuild or strengthen United’s forward options with Evans regarded, for the moment at least, as someone to build around. Sadly, he remains a work in progress. When United do add to the forward line this summer Evans will inevitably slip further down the pecking order.
His fitness was a major issue at The Proact in 2016-17 where he first attempted to resurrect his career under his former Blades boss Danny Wilson and registered seven goals. He failed to score in his last 12 appearances as relegation loomed, the last of which came in early March before another injury lay-off effectively ended his stay. It is chastening to think that the last time Evans claimed a goal the Spireites were in League One and that he hasn't added another during the time it has taken for them to slide two divisions into non-league football.
The frustration with Evans was no secret and flagged up by Gary Caldwell, Chesterfield’s manager at the time who succeeded Wilson. Despite this the Blades rushed in to sign him as soon as the season was over.
Result? He was eventually excused for three months in order to have an operation on a troublesome ankle. Before that he was hampered by a hip problem and damage to a heel.
The striker who has two years remaining on what he must increasingly regard as a very fortunate contract, it seems is in no danger of being off-loaded like transfer-listed Clayton Donaldson or Caolan Lavery, even though questions being asked a year ago remain unanswered.
The Blades are non the wiser than when his return to the Lane was announced. He could still be the forgotten man waiting patiently in the wings to make others sit up and take notice. Or not.
A ‘bargain’ buy ready to ressurect his career by with a decisive impact in the Championship? Or a busted flush trading on memories of one 35-goal season in League One six years earlier? An outstanding haul but it is too readily forgotten that he managed just four and nine respectively in his two previous seasons at the Lane in the Championship.
Evans has made only two league starts, three in total, since returning to the Lane, 13 appearances in total and not a single goal. That wasn’t advertised in the brochure when the deal was finalised ‘to bring him home’.
Far from being a platform to relaunch the relaunch of his career which had already stalled at Chesterfield, Sheffield United has so far acted as a care provider. Whilst his teammates almost to a man out-performed to take the Blades to within six points of the play-offs, Evans, when available, was underwhelming.
Since September 27 he has made four appearances. The last of which was at Ipswich on Match 10 where he started and was then subbed, accompanied by total silence as to why he has not played since.
On the last day of the campaign with United 3-0 up at Bristol City by half time in a match where there was nothing to play for but pride, Wilder still left him on the bench.
The manager, however, insists that the lapsed Wales international has an important role to play once he completes a full pre-season.
“Ched’s probably not had one of those for a while.” he said recently. This despite Evans’ return was announced on May 8 last year, eight days after United’s last match of their League One title-winning season against the doomed Spireites.
Evans’ former club made no secret of their concerns about the striker’s fitness. But nevertheless as soon the season was over United moved swiftly to take him off their hands.
Conspiracy enthusiasts will tell you it was all pre-arranged months earlier by club co-owner Kevin McCabe who has shown an extraordinary loyalty to Evans after his contract was cancelled in 2012.
It was reported by the Sunday Times and not challenged, that McCabe paid him £170,000 out of his own pocket some of which, it said, was used to pay off his mother’s mortgage on her house in north Wales.
And, of course, there is the well documented procession of Blades managers, Danny Wilson, David Weir and Nigel Clough who are reported to have visited Evans whilst he was imprisoned.
Wilder is adamant that no pressure was applied for him to sign Evans. “Ultimately, it was my decision and mine alone to get Ched,” he said at the time. “I’ve seen and heard things claiming otherwise but, quite simply, they aren’t true. I wouldn’t bring in anyone I didn’t want here or who I didn’t think could make a difference.”
Nevertheless there has been a frustration which is hard to disguise. In May last year he said: “Ched comes to us with targets to achieve along the way. With a full pre-season with us we believe he can provide us with options up front and score goals.”
September: “Listen, we took the opportunity to sign Ched, he’s not here for the first two months of the season only. That’s the way I look at it.”
October after it was decided Evans needed an op and would be sidelined for a considerable time: “It’s a clean-up, a tidy-up. It’s nothing too serious, hopefully, but it should enable Ched to reach the levels we know he can.”
Late December with Evans back in the mix: “Ched has got a big role between now, May and beyond them. I’m absolutely sure about that.”
April: “Ched had a little bit of a set-back. It’s been a real difficult season for him. We recognise, really, we are looking next year now for Ched.”
The coming season is the biggest of Evans’ career. He must surely be in the last chance saloon. Wilder has faith in him and that is a good enough reason to persevere for most Blades.
Even if the manager opts to leave pending the unresolved power-struggle between club co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, it is almost certain his replacement would give the player a chance.
Every Blade would love to see a fully functioning Evans rolling back the years to justify the faith which has been shown in him. Given the unusual and enduring relationship which seems to exist between player and club that owes him absolutely nothing, however, maybe it’s all just too comfortable for his own good.