Sheffield United: ‘Don’t bother trying to stifle Mark Duffy’

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Sheffield United’s League One rivals have been told it is pointless trying to bully Mark Duffy into submission.

The midfielder, who joined Chris Wilder’s team from Birmingham City earlier this year, is fast becoming a target for opponents after emerging as a key figure in the South Yorkshire club’s plans.

Bradford City became the latest team to man-mark Duffy when United visited Valley Parade last weekend with Shrewsbury Town and Fleetwood Town also detailing players to stifle the 31-year-old’s attacking threat.

But Wilder, speaking ahead of Saturday’s game against MK Dons, insisted even a change of formation will not curb Duffy’s influence.

“Mark is clever enough to play in any sort of system,” he said. “We like him to get on the ball because of that, dictate the tempo, open teams up and create chances.”

United’s decision to abandon a flat back four in favour of a 3-5-2 formation has not only improved their defensive performances but, at the other end of the pitch, granted Duffy greater freedom to dictate both the pattern and pace of the game.

Dons, who parted company with manager Karl Robinson earlier this week, could follow City’s lead in a bid to prevent Duffy supplying Wilder’s front line with the kind of service which has seen them score 10 goals in three outings.

Pete Winkleman, Robinson’s former chairman, revealed he had taken the decision after fearing Dons would never achieve their dream of being an established top-flight club unless a change was made.

“We need to be a Championship club,” Winkleman said. “To be honest this club needs to be a Premier League club one day, I’ve built a Premier League stadium.”

Duffy was named in the Professional Footballers’ Association’s team of the year after helping Burton Albion reach the Championship last season and Wilder said: “He’s a good character and a good player at this level and hopefully with us the one above too.”