Few players will have enjoyed scoring at Old Trafford in recent times more than Sheffield United’s Kean Bryan.
Not only did Bryan’s first-half header set the Blades on their way to a remarkable win over Manchester United – for just their second three points of the season – but the former Manchester City youngster also secured some family bragging rights.
“It’s amazing,” he said after the game. “It’s a special occasion because a lot of my family are United fans and I’m from down the road so it’s a very special day for me.”
‘Down the road’ is putting it modestly. Bryan is a product of the City academy, having grown up within walking distance from the City Football Academy. Literally, he would walk round the corner to training when he was coming through at City.
And not only will City have been pleased to see yet another former player make their mark in the Premier League – Bryan and Sheffield United have given them them a huge boost in the title race. Had United picked up three points, they would have displaced City at the top of the table. Now, City are a point clear of their rivals with a game in hand, moving into 1/4 favourites with the bookmakers to win the title.
Pep Guardiola will still come out in his next press conference and play down any title talk, instead choosing to focus on the next game and the next game only. Interestingly for City, that next game is against Bryan’s buoyant Blades on Saturday.
Bryan explained: “It’s back to the drawing board and the gaffer will have us preparing for the big game at the weekend. We’ve got to fight for every game, we knew it would be a difficult challenge coming here tonight, on Saturday it’s going to be a difficult challenge.
“The gaffer tells us to fight every game, that’s why we’re in this league, we deserve to be here. This season’s points tally isn’t good enough and we need to work to be better, but hopefully things can start to change.”
City have the momentum in the title race, but however easy their next two fixtures against Sheffield United and Burnley look on paper, both sides have beaten title contenders in the last week after Burnley’s impressive win at Liverpool. Guardiola will know better than to take either side lightly.
As for Bryan, he will be hoping to keep his place for Sheffield United after a difficult time at Bramall Lane since leaving City in 2018.
After a productive loan spell at Oldham Athletic in League One, Bryan joined Sheffield United – then of the Championship – on a free transfer. Capable of playing at centre-back, left-back and even in midfield, he was a perfect candidate to play in Chris Wilder’s favoured 3-5-2 formation with overlapping full-backs.
However, injury disrupted most of his debut season for the Blades, and when he returned, they were a newly-promoted Premier League side with settled defenders. Wilder wasn’t going to disrupt that to blood a relatively inexperienced option as Sheffield United threatened the European spots for much of the season. A loan at Bolton in League One followed at the end of last season.
Now, with Wilder’s men suffering a number of injury problems this season to key men, Bryan has finally been given the chance to prove why he was brought to the club in the first place.
He said: “I was behind Jack O’Connell who’s a fantastic player, so it’s difficult to break into the team when the team was doing as well as it was last season, so I’m thankful this year that there’s been an opportunity to get more game time. The goal helps but it’s more about how I play in the position. Today I was asked to play left wing-back and I’ll play wherever I can across that back line. I’m just happy to contribute.
“For any player at any football club you want to be playing football. It was a difficult situation when I was behind Jack O’Connell, but now it’s time to step up and show what I can do.”
His education at City will serve him well, as will his desire to persevere through a difficult couple of years. A goal at Old Trafford is a welcome bit of positive news for Bryan, but City will hope his next visit back ‘down the road’ at the weekend will not be as rewarding as last night’s.
Still, there will be a few friendly faces at the Etihad passing a word of thanks in Bryan’s direction for his role in tipping the title race firmly in City’s direction. For now.