The Football League Paper - - FA CUP THIRD ROUND - By Paddy von Behr

LAST sum­mer John Bray­ford had to con­tend with play-off heart­break, the first se­ri­ous in­jury of his ca­reer and the sack­ing of the man­ager who twice brought him to Bra­mall Lane.

But the Sh­effield United full-back dusted him­self off, got stuck into his re­hab and re­turned late last year as though he had never been away.

It was a knee in­jury, sus­tained in the first leg of last sea­son’s play-off semi-fi­nal with Swin­don which de­layed Bray­ford’s sea­son de­but un­til late Novem­ber.

It looked as though the 28-year-old hadn’t missed a minute though, slot­ting into a back four that con­ceded just twice in a five-match un­beaten run since his re­turn.

That run came to an end in a 3-2 de­feat against Peter­bor­ough last week­end but with the Blades edg­ing to­wards the play-offs once more, Bray­ford won’t dwell on that for too long.

“It was nice to come back and win a few games, and it’s a shame the run came to an end last week­end,” he said.

“It wasn’t meant to be but it was prob­a­bly one of our best per­for­mances in re­cent weeks.

“The con­fi­dence has started com­ing through in the last cou­ple of weeks, so Peter­bor­ough was a bit­ter pill to swal­low.

“But it’s about time the foot­ball club got out of this league.

“For the fan­base they have got here, they de­serve to play at a higher level. Hope­fully we will be in the mix.”

Af­ter a frus­trat­ing 2015, Bray­ford was free to en­joy an early high­light to the New Year yes­ter­day when the Blades took on Manch­ester United at Old Traf­ford in the FA Cup third round.

It is a com­pe­ti­tion in which he has pre­vi­ous suc­cess with Sh­effield United, reach­ing the semi-fi­nal while on loan from Cardiff two sea­sons ago.

Fol­low­ing a short spell back in Wales, Bray­ford joined the Blades on a per­ma­nent deal 12 months ago and it is a de­ci­sion he looks back on with sat­is­fac­tion.

“I came up to Sh­effield on loan and had a good time up here, and I just felt like I wanted to go back,” he re­called.

“I knew I was go­ing to be play­ing and that is what I wanted at the time. I fell in love with the foot­ball club and en­joyed the way of life.”

The de­ci­sion paid early div­i­dends when United fin­ished fifth in League One but they were de­nied a trip to Wem­b­ley by a bizarre ten-goal draw at Swin­don in the se­cond leg.

Bray­ford’s frus­tra­tion was com­pounded by the fact he had to watch from the stands, hav­ing left the first leg in­jured.

“I didn’t even think any­thing at the time and played on for 15 or 20 min­utes,” he said.

“I got the re­sults a cou­ple of days later and it wasn’t great but it didn’t kick in un­til the lads came back from the sum­mer and started play­ing games. “I went down to Swin­don with the lads and I will prob­a­bly never see a game like that again.We were 3-0 down af­ter 15 min­utes. When we got back to 5-5 I thought ‘Christ, we are go­ing to get an­other one here’.

“It was dis­ap­point­ing not to get pro­moted – I just wanted the lads to do well. It wasn’t meant to be and it was a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment but I didn’t re­ally think about my­self.”

Add to that the news that Nigel Clough, who had man­aged Bray­ford twice pre­vi­ously, was sacked at the end of the sea­son and there was plenty to sulk about.

How­ever, new boss Nigel Ad­kins has filled the void, placed his faith in Bray­ford and en­sured things are look­ing up once more.

“I didn’t ex­pect him to get sacked,” added the de­fender.“It was a bit late in the sum­mer, not just af­ter the se­cond leg – but the new gaffer has come in and has been great.

“He has popped me straight back in and I’m go­ing to try and re­pay his faith in me.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

ON TAR­GET: Peter Crouch en­joys his goal

UP­BEAT: John Bray­ford

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