Sheffield United: Duo impress in football’s toughest shift

Kieron Freeman was also on target against Bury earlier this month. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Kieron Freeman was also on target against Bury earlier this month. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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Lung-busting runs, a responsibility to contribute in both penalty boxes and no time whatsoever for rest.

Little wonder Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has the utmost respect for his wing-backs.

“It’s not a job I’d like to do,” he admitted earlier this week. “Because it’s hard, hard work. I’m glad it wasn’t around in my day, being totally honest, so full credit to the lads for getting on with it.”

Kieron Freeman and Daniel Lafferty, who were handed the task of patrolling United’s flanks following Wilder’s appointment in May, have emerged as influential figures in a team which enters Saturday’s match at Walsall on top of the League One table and four points clear of second place. Freeman scored his third goal in as many matches during last weekend’s victory over Southend. Lafferty, whose loan from Burnley is set to become a permanent transfer, has netted once and claimed two assists.

“The way we play, we always try to get forward and be positive,” Wilder continued. “Those positions are a key part of that. The fact Kieron has got those (goals) tells you a lot about how we are trying to approach our work.”

Nevertheless, with Manchester United youngster Joe Riley expected to arrive at Bramall Lane shortly and talks aimed at resigning Harry Chapman from Middlesbrough also taking place, Wilder has acknowledged the enormous amount of work Freeman and Lafferty are being asked to undertake.

Daniel Lafferty is set to join Sheffield United permanently. Picture Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Daniel Lafferty is set to join Sheffield United permanently. Picture Simon Bellis/Sportimage

A recent study revealed wing-backs typically cover distances of over 11km during a competitive first team fixture and make more sprints than any other position on the pitch.

Former United defender Derek Geary, now a coach at the Steelphalt Academy, said: “Physically, it’s such a demanding position because you are constantly up and down. But it’s mentally tough too because you’ve got to know when to make a run and how to make it count, otherwise, you’ll just burn yourself out.”

“At wing-back, and I speak from experience, you’re constantly on the move but you’ve also got to understand the game and how the opposition’s set-up might leave your own team exposed,” Geary added. “Especially on the counter or at the far post.”

Wilder, who revealed Lafferty took part at Roots Hall despite a back problem, insisted that winning 4-2 had vindicated United’s decision not to adopt a more conservative approach away from home.

“It was two systems,” he said. “Do we change ours or do we change theirs? We stuck with ours.

“We like our wide lads to get forward and ours do it brilliantly. It’s a tough shift, I wouldn’t like to do it. One minute Kieron is clearing it at the back post and then the next he’s expected to get in to the opposition box.”