INDUSTRIOUS midfielder Michael Doyle is demanding Sheffield United tighten up defensively to re-establish themselves as genuine automatic promotion contenders in the third tier of English football.
You have to go back two months for the last time the Blades recorded a shut-out in League One and they are fifth in the table after notching just three wins in their last 10 outings.
It is in marked contrast to August when Danny Wilson’s troops kept three clean sheets and were stubborn, difficult opponents to break down.
Now United trail leaders Charlton Athletic by 11 points and second-placed Huddersfield Town by six.
Doyle blames individual lapses in concentration at the back for United squandering points against Leyton Orient, Exeter City and Stevenage.
The Dubliner said: “We have got to get back to working really hard and doing the basics right again. We have to start working as a team again rather than as individuals.
“We are probably not as tight as a unit as we were at the start of the season when we had two banks of four and led from the front.
“We got results at the start of the season because we worked hard for each other and we have do that again.
“We have to forget about the nice, attractive football and get back to grinding teams down and having a siege mentality as a group and not working individually.”
United bowed out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on penalties last week, leaving Wilson’s side with the league and the FA Cup to focus on.
Doyle conceded it was a major blow losing to Bradford City in the JPT as boss Wilson felt the club had a realistic shot of reaching the latter stages of the tournament.
“The league is the bread and butter for us,” insisted Doyle. “At the start of the year, we said we wanted to try and get promoted. I think we have dropped some silly points this year.
“It is not like teams are cutting us open. We are making individual mistakes and that is why we are dropping points. We need to cut them out and work harder as a group and concentrate for 90 minutes. We are losing concentration when we get in front and it is costing us.”
Meanwhile, United’s youngsters take on Port Vale in the second round of the FA Youth Cup on Monday, kick-off 7pm at Bramall Lane. Former Blades defender Rob Page is the youth coach at Port Vale.
Tickets are £3 for adults while it is free for all juniors and concessions.
Teams and ref
UNITED (possible): Simonsen; Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Williams; Williamson, Doyle, Montgomery, Quinn; Evans, Cresswell (4-4-2).
CARLISLE (possible): Collin; Ribeiro, Livesey, Michalik, Robson; Berrett, Thirlwell, Noble; McGovern, Loy, Miller (4-3-3).
Phil Gibbs: The West Midlands official has dished out 52 yellow cards and two reds in 17 matches this term. He was in charge of United’s 2-1 victory in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Burton Albion in August. He booked no Blades players on that occasion at the Pirelli Stadium.
One to watch
Scotland international Lee Miller joined the Cumbrians for an undisclosed fee in August after finding first-team opportunities hard to come by at Middlesbrough. Miller, who had loan spells at Notts County and Scunthorpe last year, penned a two-year deal at Carlisle and has repaid the faith shown in him by boss Gregg Abbott by notching eight goals in 14 starts, including the opener at Alfreton in the FA Cup on Saturday.
This will be the first meeting between the two sides in 25 years. Carlisle have lost just twice on the road in nine outings and sit in 10th position on 26 points, three behind United.