Kevin Gage played over 100 times for Sheffield United and, in his exclusive column for The Star, discusses
So I normally sit and type these articles on a Wednesday, after contemplating the Blades' weekend performances over the following few days and also catching up on the social media comments, posts, and other local media interviews and bits and bobs. This week, I’m sitting here at 10.35am on a Sunday morning, eager to get my thoughts down after such an uplifting and impressive victory against Peterborough.
I’m sure the many other words written and spoken in the coming few days will all follow a certain theme. If they’re coming from the management, staff and players, they will be along the lines of: “it’s early days”... ”lots of work to do”... It’s a marathon, not a sprint"... "let’s not get too excited or carried away” and so on. And do you know what? That’s exactly the right and proper thing for them to say in public. We all know that’s 100 per cent correct and the common-sense view.
But... I’m a fan, and as such surely I’m allowed to get just a bit excited and even a bit carried away! The reason I can feel like this is that on Saturday, the Blades played in a manner that really, REALLY impressed me, for many different reasons, in many different areas of the pitch.
The fact we did so against very good opposition made it all the more impressive, because I doubt we’ll see a better footballing side at The Lane this season, and I’m sure Peterborough will be in or around the top six come May.
I’d written about, asked for, and hoped to get a fast start from us last Saturday, and boy did we get one! That first 30 minutes was as good a start to a home game as I’ve seen from a Blades side for many years. The reason I say this is that it wasn’t just about some of the quality passing, crossing and attacking play we produced, but the whole intensity and tempo of that first half hour was on a different level from anything we’d seen before.
In all areas of the pitch we were swarming over the opposition as they tried to impose their measured passing style of play onto us. Done and Sharp set the tone, defending and closing down from the front as they chased and harried the centre-backs, forcing them into errors at times. When the Peterborough defenders did get the ball into their midfield we had our trio of Duffy, Basham and Coutts right on their shoulders, hunting them down, winning the ball, or forcing them back or sideways.
Same story with our wing-backs: closing down, and always ready to pounce and win the ball back. The upshot of all this was that Peterborough just could not get a foothold in the game for a good 30 minutes or so as they really struggled to get anything going at all. Of course, by this time we were a goal up and actually could easily have been two or three goals to the good. When Peterborough did finally get to grips with the game they showed what a dangerous side they can be, but here our defence should also get some praise.
Collectively they never really got too stretched and even when they did, Simon Moore showed the importance of having a quality goalkeeper in your team. A physically imposing figure, who commands his area, and a good shot-stopper too, he will earn us many points this season you can be sure. All this about our defensive play as a team, and I haven’t even mentioned our new Blades pin-up poster boy.
Our new no-frills, no-nonsense, no ‘fannying-about’ destroyer. Our new ‘cult-hero-with-a-beard’. Yes, step forward Ethan Ebanks-Landell, aka The Tank! He’s a Blade, and he’s a Blade, and a few opposition strikers will find out exactly what that means this season!
As I’ve already said, I was hugely impressed. We now seem to have enough creativity and quality in our side to make chances and score goals, and as confidence grows, we will improve in the attacking third. We’ve signed some good defenders, and behind them is an excellent 'keeper.
Chris Wilder and his staff also appear to have instilled a work ethic into the players, together with an attitude of enthusiasm and passion that the successful Blades teams of the past few decades have also had in spades. In fact, us Blades fans demand nothing less, as Chris himself also knows because he’s one of us!
All good teams, even world-class great teams, work damned hard during games, especially when the opposition have the ball. Pep Guardiola is probably the world's most successful and celebrated manager in the past 10 years, but for all the tiki-taka passing, look deeper into his football philosophy and you will find a high-tempo, high intensity, high pressing team.
Sir Alex’s teams also did it for 20+ years, Jose Mourinho has made a brilliant career out of it, Jurgen Klopp is getting his Liverpool team to do it now, and Pep is currently top of the Premier League with Man City. The creative superstar players will always get you the goals, but the whole team needs to do the groundwork and the hard miles to get the ball back and give them the opportunities.
So, we’ve won four games in a row, are sixth in League One and I find myself mentioning Pep Guardiola, the tiki-taka of Barcelona, and other footballing legends in an article about Sheffield United! I’d best stop right now, as I really don’t want to be accused of “getting carried away” do I?
That can wait until next week after we make it five out of five at the league leaders, and then six out of six when we wallop Bristol Rovers ! UTB