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sharp blade Irish star John Egan ready for fight of his life to stay in top flight


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John Egan learned some key lessons about handling an relegation battle from observing the likes of John O’Shea during his time at Sunderland. Photo: Getty Images

John Egan learned some key lessons about handling an relegation battle from observing the likes of John O’Shea during his time at Sunderland. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

John Egan learned some key lessons about handling an relegation battle from observing the likes of John O’Shea during his time at Sunderland. Photo: Getty Images

If John Egan needs any reminder of the Herculean task facing Sheffield United in their relegation battle, he needs only to view the fixture list.

Newcastle tonight, followed by Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, followed by Manchester United, followed by Manchester City.

It's a run of fixtures to make any footballer's knees rattle, but even more so when you consider United have only two points from 17 Premier League games, and sit rock bottom of the table, six points adrift of second bottom West Brom.

But the Corkman is not interested in looking too far ahead, and he insists the only way the team can remain in the top flight is by dealing with what's immediately in front of them.

"No chance, I'm not one for looking at tables and wondering 'what if we get this result here' or 'what if we finish there' - I've never been like that in my life," Egan says.

"I know it's a cliché but I've been playing football a long time, and you realise that if you look too far ahead you can get bitten. You can only focus on the next game and that's the way I've always been and how I always will be.

"We believe every week, no matter who we're playing, that we have to try win the game. That's how we approach games. We're under no illusions, but we have to do everything we can to try get the three points, starting with Newcastle on Tuesday."

Confidence

United won the first game of their season at the weekend, but unfortunately for them it was a third round FA Cup tie against Bristol Rovers. While the confidence taken from the win may help going forward, it puts no points on the Premier League table.

The game was significant for Egan on a personal level though, with the Blades skipper reaching his 100th appearance for the club since signing from Brentford in 2018.

Since then he's won promotion to the top flight and finished in the top 10 at the club's first attempt, but this season has seen them fall to earth with a significant bump.

"The manager brought me here two-and-a-half years ago, and put a lot of faith in me," explains Egan, now club captain. "I've played a lot of games, to hit the 100 caps is a really good milestone for myself, I haven't done it at any other club.

"It's been brilliant overall; we've had a great run. I obviously signed in the Championship, then getting up to the Premier League was fantastic, and then just seeing the club just grow and grow. The only shame really is we haven't had our fans for nearly a year now, and that's the best thing about the club - the fans, they are brilliant."

The lack of supporters has not helped the Blades, who, unlike last season, have been unable to turn a string of decent performances into points.

Liverpool (1-2), Manchester City (0-1) and Manchester United (2-3) have bettered them by only a single goal, yet speculation persists over the future of manager Chris Wilder.

"We're not talking about that, we focus on in-house," Egan says, "day to day, we know what's going on - we try to train really hard, prepare for every game the same.

"Football is full of ups and downs, and it's a lot more downs than ups for probably 90 per cent of players in the game.

"You just have to deal with it - but we know we've had two fantastic years, with promotion and a ninth finish in the Premier League.

"Yes, this year's not been great, we've lost a lot of games, and that's not what you want to do as a footballer, but you can give up and throw the towel in or you can keep fighting.

"Some of our performances against the bigger teams have been similar to last season when we did well, but when you're not getting the results, you don't think that way. But looking it as a whole, the performances were similar.

"We've had a lot more to deal with this year, more injuries too . . . so the team's not been as settled. It's been similar to last season in some ways, but we're obviously on the wrong side of so many results so we have to learn from it and improve."

This is Egan's first experience of a relegation battle as a first-teamer, but the young Egan was around the Stadium of Light in the early part of the 2010s, as Sunderland struggled to keep pace in the top flight. Waterford's John O'Shea was Egan's role model, and he's taken lessons from how the Ireland legend carried himself as the Black Cats battled the drop.

"I was in and around the squad at Sunderland back then, and I saw this scrap a few times," he says. "I learned you have to stay positive, and keep looking to the next game. The senior pros there were brilliant at that - the likes of John O'Shea, Lee Cattermole, those guys, they were great to rally the troops and look ahead rather than behind, that's the biggest lesson I've learned.

"I have to pass that on here, we all have to chip in, to keep reminding each other that what's done is done, and what's ahead of us is all we can affect.

"It's a good way to approach things, a good way to approach life, and right now it's the only way we can approach things. Today is a good chance to get a win and move forward."

  • Sheffield Utd v Newcastle Utd, Live, Sky Sports, 6.0

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