Having kept six clean sheets and breached just once in over 11 hours of football, Sheffield United’s defence has been the driving force behind a sequence of results which last night prompted Jose Baxter to suggest that play-off qualification is not an impossibility, writes James Shield.
Still closer to the relegation zone than the top six, Nigel Clough and his staff were never going to elaborate on the midfielder’s contribution to the debate surrounding this evening’s League One fixture against Peterborough.
But Chris Morgan, deputising for the manager at yesterday’s pre-match media briefing, gladly discussed why, despite performing unglamorous roles, the likes of Neill Collins and Matt Hill deserve huge praise for ensuring United enter their meeting with Darren Ferguson’s side hoping to record an eighth straight win.
“We’ve been very professional of late,” Morgan, an influential member of the club’s coaching department, said. “To get seven (victories) on the spin is a phenomenal and the fact that we’ve performed so well at the back has been a huge factor in that.
“If you don’t concede then you’ve always got a much better chance of getting the result you want.
“We do the work on the training ground and the gaffer drills into the lads what he wants. But, really, it’s the lads themselves who take all the credit because they are the ones who have got to do it out there on the pitch.”
United, 11 points behind tonight’s sixth placed opponents but still only six above the bottom four, remained 12th in the table following Saturday’s triumph at MK Dons. Harry Maguire, who has formed an effective partnership at centre-half with Collins, missed the contest due to injury while full-back John Brayford hobbled-off with a calf complaint.
“I thought Collo was absolutely superb there,” Morgan continued. “And Hilly showed his worth out there too.
“Every ball that came into our box was dealt with and dealt with effectively. They were all intercepted or headed away.
“Collo had to stand-up and lead the team out there. He didn’t have his mate (Maguire) alongside him but it didn’t faze him at all. He did exactly what he had to do and set a great example.”
Nevertheless Morgan, who made nearly 300 appearances for United as a player before damaged knee ligaments cut short his career, acknowledged Peterborough pose a huge threat to their hopes of achieving a sixth consecutive shut-out in the league.
The visitors have scored 31 away goals - a figure bettered only by Leyton Orient - in the competition this term and are expected to name the prolific Britt Assombalonga in their starting eleven.
Brayford could be absent for several weeks if scans confirm fears about the extent of his muscle problem but winger Jamie Murphy (groin) is unlikely to require extensive treatment after also being substituted at stadium:mk.
United were 21st in the table when Morgan, appointed on a temporary basis following the departure of Clough’s predecessor David Weir, signed-off his spell in caretaker charge with a goalless draw at London Road.
Five months on, the 36-year-old said: “We got a little bit of criticism in the press for, to use Jose Mourinho’s phrase, ‘parking the bus’ there but, looking back, I actually thought we had the better chances.
“In any case, Peterborough were up near the top and we were down at the other end.”
“It’s different now,” Morgan added. “But our sole objective is to stay in this division, finish as strongly as possible and hit next season running.”