It was typical and wholly predictable that, after watching Sheffield United climb back into the automatic promotion places, Chris Wilder preferred to talk about the character of his players rather than Mark Duffy’s masterclass.
The Liverpudlian scored twice and claimed a valuable assist against a Swindon Town side which, after bravely trying to seize this game by the scruff of the neck, found itself out-worked, out-smarted and hopelessly out-gunned.
Duffy, who carved the visitors apart with his touch and technique before being substituted during the closing stages, was the most devastating member of a United midfield powered by the excellent John Fleck and Paul Coutts.
But, having spent his first 27 matches at the helm preaching the importance of attitude and team spirit, Wilder focused on the more prosaic aspects of United’s performance afterwards.
“We’ve got too much quality for people to hold us back,” Wilder said.
“But the biggest thing was the work ethic and the pressing which allowed us to play.
“People will walk away talking about Duffy, Fleck and Coutts.
“But that was down to everyone.
“They all put in a shift.”
Swindon, boosted by their victory over Bradford City earlier this month, burst out of the blocks and forced Simon Moore to make an excellent save from Darnell Furlong before United seized control.
Billy Sharp and Matt Done, recalled to the starting eleven after a three match absence, both wasted chances. But, when Lawrence Vigouroux allowed Duffy’s angled shot to creep across the line, the floodgates opened.
Coutts, profiting from his colleague’s invention, dispatched a clinical finish beyond Swindon’s goalkeeper soon after before Duffy pounced again from close-range.
Caolan Lavery completed the rout by scoring his first in United colours late on before fellow substitute Leon Clarke nearly added a fifth.
It was a measure of United’s dominance that Ethan Ebanks-Landell, their on-loan centre-half, provided the pass which allowed Lavery to break his duck.
“The first 10 minutes weren’t too good,” Wilder said.
“Whether or not that was them or us not being switched on I don’t know.
“But after that we showed a real desire to take on the challenge.”
no duff notes from mark
Wilder described Duffy as the “best player in this division last season” after luring him to Bramall Lane.
On this evidence it is easy to see why although, in Coutts and Fleck, the former Birmingham City winger has two rivals for his crown.
Duffy, whose performances during a spell on loan at Burton Albion helped the Staffordshire club gain promotion to the Championship, knows when to run, when to pass and, as Vigouroux discovered early in the second-half, when to shoot.
“Duffy picks the ball up and makes good decisions,” Wilder said.
“But, I’ll make no apologies for pointing this out, the group as a whole is key.”
the boy has done good
Done, who relies on industry rather than invention, is the polar opposite of Duffy.
But, in his own understated way, he is just as important to United’s cause. One passage of play in the first-half - when he forced Vigouroux to concede a throw-in after chasing a seemingly lost cause before missing a glorious chance to score - illustrated the strength and weakness of his game.
The decision to drop Done coincided with a three match winless run for a United side previously beaten only once 16 outings.
Which, as Wilder admitted afterwards, was probably a mistake.
“The reception Matt got when he came off tells you a lot,” Wilder said.
“He’s disappointed but he keeps getting in the right positions, he’s showing the courage to do that.
“We all know forwards get their goals in spurts.
“I told him that when he came off. ‘We’ve got a game Thursday (at Coventry City), is that the match when you get your goal and really kick on?’”
caolan chips in
United, who move to second in the table, have now scored 36 times in their last 13 fixtures and with the festive period looming on the horizon, Wilder was delighted to see Lavery hit the target for the first time since leaving Sheffield Wednesday earlier this term.
“Caolan is a young boy,” Wilder said, “and he’ll only get better.”