Sheffield United: Losing Daniel Lafferty has proved the Northern Ireland international’s worth

Daniel Lafferty is struggling with a back injury. Pic Jamie Tyerman/Sportimage

Daniel Lafferty is struggling with a back injury. Pic Jamie Tyerman/Sportimage

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Sheffield United will refuse to gamble with Daniel Lafferty’s fitness after Chris Wilder expressed fears the defender could face a long spell on the sidelines if he aggravates his back injury.

Lafferty is being monitored by the League One leaders’ medical department ahead of Saturday’s game against Gillingham after missing the visit to Walsall five days ago.

The Northern Ireland international, who recently joined United on a permanent basis after initially arriving from Burnley on loan, hopes to return for the meeting with Adrian Pennock’s side but Wilder said: “If we rush Daniel back and something goes wrong then there’s a chance he might be out for a while. That’s not something we want to happen so we’re keeping a close eye on the situation and we’ll take it from there.”

Lafferty is thought to have been suffering with the problem for a number of weeks and nearly missed United’s victory over Southend earlier this month before bowing-out of their defeat at the Banks’s Stadium. Although Matt Done deputised for the Northern Ireland international during that match, new loan signing Joe Riley could be handed an immediate call-up if Lafferty again misses-out. Despite operating predominately on the right, the Manchester United youngster can also play on the other side of the pitch.

“Joe is comfortable playing on both the right or left and that versatility will be important to us,” Wilder said when his move to Bramall Lane was confirmed.

Despite those options, United’s manager will be keen for Lafferty to receive the all-clear. Not least because the average number of goals Wilder’s team concede per game with the 27-year-old in the team (0.8) is dramatically lower than without (1.9); a statistic which proves his worth to the team.

Wilder, whose side remained on top of the table despite being beaten by Walsall, said: “Daniel has shown what he brings to the table. That’s the reason why we were so keen to bring him on board permanently which, thankfully, we did.”