JON STEAD will be hoping for the chance to face his first club tomorrow – and prove his worth to his current employers.
Sheffield United’s 25-year-old Huddersfield-born frontman is fighting two battles ahead of the Carling Cup second-round showdown at the Galpharm.
Firstly, the former England Under 21 cap must prove his fitness after a groin injury which kept him out of the reckoning on Saturday, when the Blades won 3-1 at Blackpool.
And, with the rumour mill buzzing with talk of a possible move to Championship rivals Plymouth Argyle as the closure of the transfer window looms, he has to force his way into manager Kevin Blackwell’s selection for his side’s second visit to Town this month.
Stead, whose goalscoring exploits with Town earned him a £1.25m move to the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers in February 2004, figured in the Galpharm friendly which Stan Ternent’s side won 2-1 with goals by ex-Blade Danny Cadamarteri and Keigan Parker.
But he’s figured in only one of United’s competitive games – as a late substitute in the 1-0 opening-day defeat at the hands of Birmingham City at St Andrews.
Blackwell’s side have bounced back by hitting three goals in each of their games since, against Port Vale in the Carling Cup first round, Queens Park Rangers and Blackpool, and are fifth in the table.
Stead currently has former Scunthorpe ace Billy Sharp, a hat trick hero against Rangers, and Darius Henderson, a £2m close-season buy from Watford, and Danny Webber ahead of him in the pecking order.
And according to reports, former England striker James Beattie, who netted 22 times last season, is close to a return following knee surgery.
Blackwell, the former Town goalkeeper and coach, also has David Cotterill, a summer acquisition from Wigan Athletic, on his strike roster.
It all goes to show how things can change in football, for Stead’s future seemed assured when he make an early impact at Blackburn, who had been attracted by his 24 goals in 62 starts and 14 appearances from the bench for Town.
He arrived at the Millennium Stadium to watch Town beat Mansfield in the League II play-off final of 2004 having bagged six goals in 13 games for Blackburn, including a debut winner at Middlesbrough.
But Graeme Souness, the man who had bought him, departed early the following season, and Stead struggled to win over his successor Mark Hughes, and there were just two more goals before a £1.8m move to Sunderland the following close-season.
His spell at the Stadium of Light proved to be tough, and Stead managed only two goals in 26 starts plus 14 substitute outings, although his confidence was boosted by a loan stint at Derby County, where he netted three times.
Sheffield United had faith, with Neil Warnock splashing out £750,000 during the January 2007 transfer window, and his five goals from 12 starts gave the Blades a fighting chance of avoiding relegation from the Premier League, only for them to go down on the final day.
Stead scored six times last season, when he made 19 starts and 12 appearances from the bench, taking his overall tally in club football to 48.
Like Stead, Blades defenders Chris Armstrong and Derek Geary are being linked with moves away (to Reading and Crystal Palace respectively) this transfer window.
Blackwell has already trimmed his squad by allowing Chris Lucketti to join Town and Rob Hulse to head to Derby.
But according to reports, he has received assurances from his board that there will be no pressure to sell after the implementation of a number of plans to protect the club against the effects of the credit crunch.
Earlier this year Kevin McCabe, United's plc chairman, postponed plans to de-list the club from the Stock Exchange in favour of launching a convertible loan notes issue.
The move, which City of London newswires report has since been ratified, was in part designed to ensure funds were in place to sign the likes of Henderson and Cotterill.