A tinkle of anticipation could be heard around the Lamex as it was confirmed that Harrison Neal had joined us in August 2023. Of course, that should be tempered with the fact that we’d only signed the midfielder on loan from Sheffield United. But Boro’ had made good use of contacts under boss Steve Evans to bring in some top young talent from the higher divisions. So, there was every cause to think that Neal would be the latest in that vein; an up-and-coming prospect ready to make his mark.
It wasn’t a cert, however. The Blades weren’t totally committed to the idea of loaning out the midfielder in the first instance. That’s fair enough. After all, he’s their player. But it did mean that we were kept waiting until the second week of the new season to get him. Evans said: “Paul Heckingbottom wanted to keep him around and asked me to be patient. That patience got me the opportunity to speak to the lad over the weekend. He wanted to join us in preference to others and that meant a lot to me.”
Harrison Neal: Before Boro’
We wouldn’t be Neal’s first taste of first team action. Nor would we be the first Football League side to provide a platform for his talent. In August 2021, a first loan move took him to Kettering Town (remember them?) in the National League North, before stepping up halfway through that season with a spell at Southend United. Next, he made the long trip north – from us, not so much Sheffield – to link up with Barrow in League Two; playing a total of 45 appearances. So, League One was obviously the next step.
And we were happy to be it.