Kevin Gage played over 100 times for Sheffield United and, in his exclusive column for The Star, discusses United's first win of the League One season.
So, we’re off and running! A hard-fought, bit scrappy, but fully deserved three points from Oxford has lifted us out the bottom four and the sense of relief has given every Blade a much more comfortable weekend! Instead of peeking at the league table through our fingers as we hold our head in our hands in despair, we can now study it comfortable in the knowledge that we sit proudly just above the bottom four!
It’s nonsense of course. Rash judgements on the team, the new players, and the manager, of course, have been made after only a few weeks of a long hard season, and while gaining three points doesn’t answer all our concerns and address all the problems, it sure does help the cause and provides some breathing space as everything settles down during these first few hectic months of the new regime.
The roar that greeted the final whistle last Saturday was matched only by the collective sigh of relief we all felt as we left the ground. It wasn’t a vintage Sheffield United performance, but even after a very testing, nerve-jangling first half, we eventually got the job done. That fact that we did so was also a triumph for the vast majority of Blades in the ground, who rose to the challenge set before them as the team conceded the first goal at home again.
It would have been so easy to boo and turn on the team in that first half, but the slightest sounds of discontent were immediately drowned out by encouraging roars and cheers of support. Everyone at the club, in the Press, on social media and the general consensus had been for the collective support of the fans, and boy, you delivered. It made a difference, believe me.
Bramall Lane is a fabulous place to play in and a great place to be when the atmosphere is as buoyant and vibrant as it was for the last 20 minutes against Oxford. I hope the new players got a taste of things to come, because it’s now up to them, together with the rest of the squad, to deliver. Us fans can only do so much to help... it’s over to you now, boys!
In the stands the crowd passed their test, and on the pitch a few players also came through a few personal tests of their own. I’ll pick out just a couple. Jack O’Connell was relegated to the bench after his errors in two previous games. As a new signing, still settling in and keen to impress, this will have hurt... big style. His professional pride will have taken a huge hit, and he would have been itching for an opportunity to make amends and prove his worth. He might have had to wait weeks. As it turned out, he only had to wait 45 minutes.
His second-half substitute performance, playing in an unaccustomed position at left back, was outstanding. The best compliment I can play him is to say he looked like he’d played there all his life. He was calm, confident, assured, and used the ball very well linking up with the attack intelligently. So well, in fact, that he produced a couple of superb crosses worthy of any quality left winger! The fact that he’s over 6ft is also quite useful for a left back as well! Alongside the excellent debut of Jake Wright, we suddenly don’t look quite so bare in this defensive department.
Moving into midfield, a player who has only shown us flashes of his ability so far this season, also came good as the game progressed and I’m really hoping that my initial judgement of him in the pre-season Derby game will prove to be correct in time. Mark Duffy, probably our most creative, instinctive player in the squad, had a 10-15 minutes in the first where everything he attempted seemed to fail. Add in the fact that we were a goal down, with the crowd's affections on a knife edge, and it would have been easy for him to go ‘missing’ and coast for a period of time. He did the opposite.
He kept demanding the ball, kept trying to play his passes, kept working hard for the team, and kept trying to create. He then picked up the ball in centre midfield, beat two/three men, was virtually through on goal, but then unselfishly passed to Freeman whose eventual shot was blocked. In that moment of brilliance he showed just why Chris Wilder bought him, and why he made the PFA League One team last season, as voted by his fellow professionals. If we are to have any kind of promotion campaign this season, Mark will need to be a key man and produce the goods. I think he will.
They are just two of our new signings of course, with a couple more arriving on Deadline Day. That will mean that just about half of our senior squad are new to the club this season and that is a big turnover of personnel in a short space of time. Not all players will be instant hits, settle in fantastically well and cement their place in the team. Living out of a hotel room, moving house, uprooting or being away from family in some instances, different surroundings, changes to playing/training styles, etc all have effects on individual performances.
Some players take much longer to feel at home at a new club, whereas some fit in immediately. Some, of course, never fit in at all! Having said that, don’t feel too sorry for them; they are paid to perform and do their job like we all are. But we’ll make them all welcome and give them our utmost support, because they’re now Blades, and in time they will hopefully appreciate what a special football club they now play for. We ask that they show us on the pitch, sooner rather than later please! UTB