2 May 2023
By Roger Kennedy
When Sheffield United were drawn against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final to be played at Wembley Stadium on the 22nd of April, the footballing world expected Erling Haaland to enjoy yet another field day in front of goal.The rampant Norwegian striker is on course for a record goal return in 2023 and a game against lower-league opposition presented the perfect opportunity in taking one step closer to scoring the most goals in a single season in England. It has been an astounding debut campaign in the Premier League that defies belief.
In fact, the 22-year-old has been so prolific that the current PFA Player of the Year odds supplied by Betway list Haaland at just 2/11 to win the award as of the 25th of April. As you can see, the widespread expectation that Haaland would run wild against Sheffield United was not without its logic but while City would eventually go on to win the match 3-0, Haaland would endure a frustrating afternoon where he was marked out of the game by John Egan.
If Haaland didn’t know who Egan was before the pair walked out of the Wembley tunnel before kick-off, he will now be in no doubt about who the Corkonian is after being dominated in the air and on the ground for the time he was on the pitch.
It was one of those heavy defeats where Egan was somehow still able to walk away from the game with his reputation enhanced despite playing in the heart of defence. Of course, eagle-eyed viewers would have seen fellow Cork footballer Roy Keane criticise Egan’s role in one of the three Riyad Mahrez goals that were scored on the afternoon but the ex-Manchester United captain does have a tendency to focus on mistakes rather than praise. Keane’s uncompromising view on his fellow Corkonian aside, the fact remains that no defender in Europe has had such success against Haaland this season.
The future looks promising
Egan’s faultless performance against the world’s most prolific striker will undoubtedly be a very welcome sight for Sheffield United fans with their team set to play in the Premier League during the 2023/2024 season. Indeed, if Egan can keep this level of performance up then the Blades will comfortably retain their Premier League status.
⚔️ John Egan vs Cardiff (H):
▪️ Touches 72
▪️ Accurate passes 44/55 (80%)
▪️ Passes into the final third 8
▪️ Tackles won 3/3 (100%)
▪️ Recoveries 5
▪️ Clearances 5
▪️ Ground duels won 3/3 (100%)#twitterblades #sufc pic.twitter.com/6vyss6xgWe
— Sheff United Way (@SheffUnitedWay) April 16, 2023
Although, having made over 200 appearances for the South Yorkshire side, irrespective of what happens in the forthcoming season back in the top flight, the defender born in Cork City has already secured his legacy as one of the all-time greats at the back for the Blades. So what makes the 30-year-old such an effective and reliable performer?
Always in the right place at the right time
To keep a player like Haaland quiet, defenders either have to be able to call on an electric burst of pace or be one step ahead of the game. While Egan is no sloth in a foot race, his ability to read the game is what makes him the defender he is and that was evident at Wembley when he seemed to preempt everything the Norwegian wanted to do. Put another way, the 30-year-old has a sixth sense when it comes to potential danger in the final third and can often snuff out any attack before it develops.
Firm but fair
Out of 427 professional appearances, Egan has only ever been issued a straight red card on two occasions. For a centre-back, this is a revealing stat that indicates the Irishman seldomly gives fouls away and instead, is able to rely on the timing of his tackles as opposed to brute force to win the ball back. It is this calming and calculated presence at the back which has made Egan one of the most reliable centre-backs to ever put on the Sheffield United shirt.
All the best central defenders to have ever played professionally make sure they are a threat from set-pieces at the other end of the pitch. Egan is no different and has scored eight times for the Blades whilst chipping in with five invaluable assists. One of these goals came against Wrexham in the FA Cup when the Irishman popped up at the back post to bundle in a dramatic equalizer and help ensure his team made it to Wembley for their showdown with City. Yes, it was this goal that meant fans from Egan’s native Cork were able to jump on a Ryanair flight destined for England’s capital to watch him compete in one of the biggest games of the season.
Another twist in the tale 😬@SheffieldUnited bundle it in to equalise with seconds to go!#EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/JS1zpLqqSS
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 29, 2023
Above all, Egan’s leadership skills will ensure that he goes down in the history of Sheffield United as one of their most celebrated defenders. Without the Corkonian, who is to say if the Blades would have been able to mount two successful promotion charges to the Premier League in five years? What is irrefutable is that the stats link Egan’s arrival at Bramall Lane in 2018 with a return to top-flight football for the first time since 2007. The 30-year-old’s time in South Yorkshire has seen the Blades enjoy one of the most rewarding times in their history.