Sheffield United: Nothing sinister over new deal delays

Paul Coutts has been in superb form this season: Robin Parker/Sportimage
Paul Coutts has been in superb form this season: Robin Parker/Sportimage
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Sheffield United have explained why contracts talks with players including Paul Coutts, Chris Basham and Stefan Scougall have been postponed until the end of the season.

Alan Knill, the League One leaders’ assistant manager, confirmed the decision was taken to enable Chris Wilder’s team to “focus completely” on trying to secure promotion rather than becoming distracted by administrative issues.

United are eight points clear at the top of the table following Tuesday’s victory over Oxford and 11 ahead of Scunthorpe in third.

Although delaying negotiations with leading members of their squad means Bramall Lane’s hierarchy face a busy summer, regardless of which division the club finds itself in, Knill said: “There are, with the greatest of respect, more pressing things at the moment. Targets we want to achieve and places we want to get too.

“That’s got to be the focus at the moment. And I think people understand that. It seems like common sense.”

United’s position has been strengthened by the fact the likes of Coutts and Basham, two of their most impressive performers this term, signed deals boasting options in the club’s favour when they arrived in South Yorkshire from Derby County and Blackpool respectively.

Stefan Scougall hopes to be awarded a new contract by Sheffield United

Stefan Scougall hopes to be awarded a new contract by Sheffield United

Together with Matt Done, those were effectively triggered midway through the present campaign when their appearance based targets were met. Scougall’s contractual situation is less clear although Wilder, whose side return to action at Swindon Town on Tuesday, has praised the midfielder’s contribution and work ethic in recent months.

John Brayford, on loan at Burton Albion, admitted he was unsure if he remained part of United’s plans earlier this week but, according to Knill, the defender’s future will also be discussed at the end of the present campaign.

Intriguingly, Wilder also demonstrated a willingness to renegotiate pay awards handed out by previous regimes when he altered George Long’s terms and conditions soon after taking charge in May. The goalkeeper had been promised a higher salary by the 49-year-old’s predecessor Nigel Adkins but remained in South Yorkshire after accepting a reduced deal. Having lost his place to Simon Moore, Long has since returned to the bench following Aaron Ramsdale’s move to AFC Bournemouth.

Coutts, Done and Basham, described as “brilliant” by Knill before the visit to the Kassam Stadium, were all recruited by Nigel Clough.

Responding to Brayford’s comments, Knill said: “Things like that, we can sit down and look at when the football has finished. But, until then, I think it’s important to focus completely on trying to achieve what we want to achieve.”

Meanwhile, Oldham Athletic have agreed to move their own supporters to accommodate more United fans when the two clubs meet at Boundary Park on Saturday 25 March. United made representations to their counterparts in the North-West after selling-out recent allocations at both Rochdale and Peterborough. Oldham have now agreed to increase the visitors’ ticket allocation to over 4,000 following what a spokesperson said were “extremely friendly” and “positive” talks.

“United would like to thank Oldham Athletic for their co-operation on this matter,” the spokesperson continued. “However, there will definitely be no further allocations offered though.”