Mark Duffy is probably the Sheffield United player most affected by the trend for opponents to try and smother Chris Wilder’s team into submission.
The former Birmingham City midfielder, who made his 25th appearance for the South Yorkshire club during Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Swindon Town, is the most potent creative force within its squad and, as a result, has become used to being shadowed throughout games.
Although Wilder concedes the tactics being employed by their rivals are, in part, a response to Duffy’s performances so far this term, he is adamant the 31-year-old’s technical skills will eventually render them redundant.
“Duffy has been first class ever since he came into the football club,” Wilder said. “Okay, he might take a little extra touch at times but he’s the type of player people enjoy watching. If I wasn’t the manager, I’d enjoy coming to watch him here, playing for us.
“He gets singled-out and he gets targeted but he expects that. And, as he’s shown, he’s got the ability to come out on top.”
Duffy’s ability to find space and pick the right pass has seen him emerge as a pivotal figure in United’s plans. Particularly since their switch to a 3-5-2 formation which, following a chequered start to the season, has been the catalyst for a dramatic surge from the bottom of the table to within three points of leaders Scunthorpe. AFC Wimbledon were the first side to man-mark Duffy during September’s match at Kingsmeadow but he responded by scoring a memorable goal as the visitors’ ran-out 3-2 winners.
United slipped to a first defeat in 16 league outings when they defeated by Walsall last month but Wilder, who watched Duffy hit the target twice against Swindon, said: “I didn’t beat my team up because we’re a decent team that’s looking to go after people and playing decent football. We’re not smashing it forward but we do try and get on the front foot.
“If we do go square it’s because the lads are looking to play out at the other side. We’re overloading in good areas. We’ve just got to take it on the chin and go on another run now, that’s the aim. The team was hurting because they didn’t want to give a fantastic run up. But it wasn’t for the want of trying and I’ll always back them for that.”