IT might not be the most glamorous prize they are chasing this season but the Johnstone Paint Trophy has injected fresh impetus into Sheffield United’s League One campaign.
Less than a month ago, most observers analysing Danny Wilson’s squad would have concluded it boasted 11 or so quality options before expressing concerns about a perceived lack of depth.
But, fresh from Wednesday’s resounding second-round triumph over Notts County, United’s manager and staff suddenly find themselves grappling with a series of welcome selection dilemmas instead.
Shaun Miller, a summer signing from Crewe Alexandra, thrust himself into pole position for a starting role at Preston North End this after
noon having scored two of the visitors’ four goals at Meadow Lane.
Neill Collins, United’s experienced centre-half, also resumed full training on Thursday after recovering from an infected foot.
“Neill is a throwback,” Wilson, revealing the Scot played against Hartlepool earlier this month despite being in “absolute agony”, said. “He puts himself on the line for the team. A lot of players wouldn’t have put themselves forward for that one. But he did.
“He showed the type of attitude the rest of the lads here should aspire to.
“Neill has trained and so hopefully he’s ready to go.”
“Shaun is a goalscorer,” Wilson added. “We knew what he’s about and that’s why we brought him here over the summer.
“But there were other aspects of his game that needed brushing up and now we’re looking for consistency.
“We know strikers
aren’t going to score every time they play.
“So, when they don’t or if the chances aren’t falling to them, they’ve got to contribute in different ways.
“It’s very tempting to bring him in. It’s also very tempting to stick with Dave Kitson, Nick Blackman and Richard
Cresswell too because they’ve also done well.”
Despite providing the likes of Miller, Matthew Harriott, Darryl Westlake and Jordan
Chapell with glowing references following their exploits at Meadow Lane, Wilson nevertheless struck a cautionary note about basing sweeping assessments on “a single game.”
“The young lads have to be tested at a higher level than the under-21s,” he continued. “They’ve got to prove themselves and they did that against County who put out a very experienced side.
“They were very close to full strength and we took the chances which came our way and asked questions both in and out of possession.
“But it’s one game and they’ve still got a lot to learn. I thought there were some terrific performances and some terrific finishing. We made sure the opportunities that came our way were put away.”
Collins, expected to return from injury
against his former club, described the trip to Deepdale as United’s “toughest test” of the season so far.”
Wilson echoed the Scot’s sentiments, but only after issuing a caveat of his own.
“The next game is always the toughest,” Wilson said. “I think Preston will be challenging and they are an established name.
“There’s a different emphasis to them now and at home they’ll be expected to put us to the sword. Their fans will expect that.”
Wilson added: “We’re used to that though. We’ll always be a team that people want to beat.
“Whether that be because we are perceived as a big club or too big for our boots I don’t know.
“What I do know, though, is that teams are determined to beat us and we’ve had to learn to live with that.”
Third-placed United, still unbeaten in the competition this term, travelled without keeper Mark Howard.
Preston, in eighth, have no fresh fitness concerns but Lee Trundle (knee) and Lee Holmes (leg) are recovering from injury.