Footballers are often asked to take positives out of a defeat and, usually, it is an exercise in complete futility, writes James Shield.
But scratching beneath the surface of Saturday’s loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers and John Brayford, the Sheffield United defender, last night insisted the 2-0 scoreline must not be allowed to obscure real signs of progress from Nigel Clough’s side.
Goals from James Henry and Dave Edwards might have brought their 11 match unbeaten run to an untimely halt and put a dampener on the South Yorkshire club’s 125th birthday celebrations. However, Brayford told The Star, the manner in which United competed against opponents a point clear at the top of the League One table and benefiting from a £16m parachute payment demonstrated Clough’s Bramall Lane revolution is starting to gather pace.
“We came up against a top team and there wasn’t a lot between us,” he said. “They were very clinical and that’s why they’re in the position they are but I didn’t think we were too far away from them.
“The gaffer has only been here for a short-period whereas Wolves have had a full pre-season to work on everything they want to do.
“But we’ve been in some really good form and come from being second bottom to competing against a team that, in truth, looked like it could be a good Championship side.”
United were languishing at the foot of the rankings and averaging 0.44 points per game when, four weeks before Clough’s appointment in October, they were beaten by the same scoreline at Molineux earlier this term. They return to action against Crawley Town this evening in 11th place and having taken 22 from their last nine outings, winning seven and keeping eight clean sheets.
Although the result against Wolves makes play-off qualification unlikely, Brayford acknowledged United, who face Hull City in the FA Cup semi-finals next month, are obliged not to treat their visit to the Checkatrade.com Stadium as an early warm-up for April 13th’s Wembley showdown.
“With this set of lads, even if we had absolutely nothing to play for, we would still give it our all,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learnt here is that people respect those who do that because going into a 50/50 tackle often gets a bigger cheer than going on a 50 yard run.
“Our fans would love to wear the shirt of this football club. But we are the privileged ones because we actually get to do it.
“So that means we’ve got to give everything every single time.”
Crawley, two points and a place behind United, have also benefited from the arrival of a new manager with John Gregory, the former Aston Villa and Derby County chief, losing only four of his 17 fixtures at the helm.
Matt Tubbs, signed on loan from AFC Bournemouth, has scored seven goals in his previous nine appearances while midfielder Billy Clarke, who enjoyed a brief spell on loan at United three seasons ago, has also proved instrumental in the hosts’ climb up the table.
“Crawley will be tricky,” Brayford, on loan from Cardiff City, said. “The pitch down there isn’t too clever so we’ll have to be resilient and resolute.”