Plenty has been made of their physical attributes in recent weeks.
But Dean Hammond believes the most potent weapon in Sheffield United’s armoury is actually the mind.
“It’s all about winning games at this stage of the season,” he said. “And winning when you are not necessarily playing at your best is the mark of a good team. That’s what we did last time out and, from my perspective at least, that’s really encouraging.”
At first glance, Saturday’s victory over relegation-threatened Colchester is unlikely to set pulses racing at Bramall Lane where Nigel Adkins’ squad, who host Swindon Town this weekend, accept that promotion is the only barometer of success. Scratch beneath the surface though and Hammond, who has achieved the feat with both Southampton and his parent club Leicester City, insists the manner in which that result was achieved is a sure-sign of progress. Especially, he told The Star, when viewed against the backdrop of recent performances against Wigan Athletic and Manchester United in the FA Cup.
“We’ve found a way to win (at Colchester) and we came from 3-0 down at Wigan a few days before to get a draw. Doing that, finding the right way to get a victory, is vital because we’ve played well before in the past and not taken something from a game. We know we can play good football. We’ve shown we can score goals. But down there, we’ve also shown that we can dig results out. And you can’t put a price on that, you really can’t. So long as we show the same quality moving forward.”
Adkins, who hopes to sign Hammond on a permanent basis when his loan from City expires, has attributed United’s climb up the League One table to “attitude” and “desire”. Hammond, however, claimed a subtle tactical shift has also been a factor.
“You can’t always play well,” he continued. “And that’s why digging results out is important. We’ve got a shape now whereby, when we aren’t at our best, we can still do that. We know there’s an expectation here and that’s good. We’re all pleased that’s the case. But that doesn’t mean there is such a thing as an easy game. It doesn’t matter where teams are in the table. Football, eleven versus eleven, just doesn’t work like that. It never has and it never will.”
Seventh-placed United moved to within a point of the play-off positions after beating Kevin Keen’s side while Swindon are 14th following last weekend’s victory over Crewe Alexandra.
“Home form is important,” Hammond acknowledged. “We’re enjoying playing at Bramall Lane and we’re producing some good stuff. We want to go on a run and we’re capable of doing that. Realistically, we’ve also got to beat the teams above us in the table if we want to make the top two.”
Adkins, who named Hammond as his captain at St Mary’s, admitted a gruelling schedule of away fixtures had taken their toll during the second-half of United’s visit to the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
“The staff here are really good,” Hammond, aged 32, said. “They look after us well and get our bodies ready. The travelling is hard but you want to play games and the recovery programmes put in place, by the medical and fitness staff included, are great. Personally, I think it’s been a successful week. We should have got something at Manchester United and didn’t deserve to lose. Yes, the week could have been better. But it’s still been good.”
Hammond is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season but, like Adkins, has refused to be drawn on whether talks over a transfer to South Yorkshire have already begun behind the scenes.
“The players have made me feel really welcome and I’m enjoying myself here,” he said. “I knew Sharpy (Billy Sharp) before coming here but the rest of the lads have been great and the banter between us is good. Everybody wants to be liked and settle in. It’s nice because I can be myself and feel at home. If you can be yourself and be happy then there’s more of a chance that good performances will come out.”