For a boyhood Red and Everton youth, it’s proving quite a week for John Lundstram.
Having spent 13 years at Goodison Park, joining the Toffees at the age of just 8, the midfielder returned with Sheffield United last Saturday and left with three points.
Now, he’s on another Mersey mission, as Premier League leaders Liverpool go to Bramall Lane this weekend.
Bravely turning down a six-month contract offer from Everton in 2015, Lundstram took an almighty plunge to League Two, signing for Oxford United. He hasn’t looked back and has earned and fought his way back to the top-flight with the Blades.
Alan Stubbs, the former Everton centre-back who coached him for four years in the Blues academy, believes the 25-year-old made the right decision dropping down to the fourth tier.
Speaking exclusively to The Sportsman, the ex-Hibernian and Rotherham boss said: “I honestly believe that young players going out, they sometimes have to go lower to go higher, just from an experience point of view because I think the Premier League Under-21 league is good but it doesn’t replicate a Saturday afternoon and playing men’s football.
“You obviously have to get it right in terms of ‘Are they ready?’ but for me it’s more beneficial to get them out playing in the professional game and they learn so much more.”
Lundstram’s rise is even more remarkable considering the fact he played only 407 minutes during Sheffield United’s promotion campaign last season. He has already eclipsed that total in the Premier League by September.
Blades manager Chris Wilder has thrown him in at the deep end but he’s more than coped and Stubbs isn’t surprised at all.
“If you look at last year John he played a few times but he seems to be playing more in the Premier League than he played last year.
“It shows you that he’s maturing as a player and from me looking at him, he looks like he’s worked hard in the gym. He’s really strengthened up and he’s always been a very fit lad so that was never going to be an issue but from a physical aspect he looks like a man now who’s ready for a man’s game, which is great to see.
“Did he ever think he’d be in this position one day? I actually think he did to be honest because he was always in band around the fringes of England and there was a lot expected of him.
“I think, he had to go out to learn his trade, find his pathway and now he’s bearing the fruits of all that.
“I think he understands what he can do and what he can’t do, not necessarily what he can’t do but not to always make the game difficult.
“He’s realised that you have to play simple passes and he’s found himself in a role now where I think he’s probably grown as an individual in terms of understanding and sometimes that just comes with experience.
“You only learn the more games you play in a first-team environment and I think what you’re seeing now is the evidence of him being brought along, slowly but surely and he’s getting the benefit and so are Sheffield United.
“He’s another lad who was hungry, had a really good attitude and I’m delighted for him”.
Something Stubbs wasn’t delighted about was Lundstram playing a fine role in the Blades’ 2-0 victory over his beloved Everton. It was the midfielder’s pass that played in Lys Mousset to tie up the victory.
Despite being a Liverpool supporter growing up, Lundstram clearly hid his loyalties well during his formative years on the blue half of Merseyside.
“I’m just trying to think whether John was a red, he was obviously at Everton but I’m trying to think if deep down he was a red,” Stubbs smiles, smirking even more when we confirm he was indeed a fan of the Anfield club.
“He was there for a long-time, so that will have a bearing on it but I think deep down there may be some bits of red mixed up in there!” he joked.
“He’ll love it (facing Liverpool), I’m sure he loved last week at Goodison, coming back and playing there. I didn’t enjoy him getting the win but he’ll enjoy it, listen, it’s a journey for him right now.”