SHEFFIELD UNITED: Near miss can spur on Blades, believes skipper

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A KEEN student of the fight game, Michael Doyle knows the importance of being able to absorb a punch.

Defeat in last season’s League One play-off final dealt a stupefying blow to both his professional aspirations and ego but, two months on from that miserable afternoon at Wembley, Sheffield United’s captain has revealed the strength of character which enabled him to spring back off the canvas.

“When did I start thinking of next season? As soon as we lost. Straight away after the penalty shoot-out,” Doyle told The Star.

“I’ve never been one to wallow. If something goes wrong, I prefer to immediately turn my mind to how best to set it right.”

The sight of Steve Simonsen, prostrate on the turf and burying his head in his hands after sending the decisive spot-kick ballooning over the crossbar, was the saddest but seminal image of United’s meeting with Huddersfield Town.

Doyle, despite his doughty demeanour, is not impervious to pain.

Indeed, speaking at a recent briefing with the region’s media, he admitted to feeling every bit as raw as the now departed goalkeeper.

However, while Simonsen could be forgiven for trying to wipe the result from his memory banks, Doyle does not want to forget completely.

“I’m not so sure that feeling ever leaves you. And, to be honest, I’m not sure I actually want it to either.

“To have come so close and not gone up wasn’t good. It wasn’t nice.

“First, not to have got automatic promotion and then not to have gone up via the play-offs.

“What I do know is that I don’t want to feel that way again.

“So I’ll remember how bad it was - not keep thinking back - and that will help me focus again.”

United seemed destined to mark their debut campaign under Danny Wilson’s tutelage by returning to the Championship at the first attempt, amassing 90 points and 92 goals before a devastating chain of events condemned them to finish third.

Wilson’s charges, who also recorded a win percentage of nearly 60, entranced the purists by playing some stylish football en route to the capital.

Despite insisting they must learn to mix panache with pragmatism - “That’s one of the lessons I learned” - Doyle said: “I don’t see any reason why we should change how we go about things completely.

“One of the most enjoyable aspects of last season was the way we went about our business.

“I know the lads enjoyed it and I’m pretty sure the fans did too.

“Yes, we might look to tweak a few things and it’s important to realise and work on those areas where you can improve. But we showed that you can play good football and be right up there.

“I think we definitely showed that.”

The outcome of United’s negotiations with Kevin McDonald, who has still to sign a new contract following over eight weeks worth of talks, will have a crucial bearing on Wilson’s tactics next term.

Sources at Bramall Lane have reported that, while significant progress has been made towards reaching agreement of late, they are unable to offer cast iron guarantees the former Scotland under-21 international will stay.

Although McDonald is not the only person capable of manipulating a football with poise and precision among United’s ranks, his midfield partnership with Doyle was arguably the most effective in the division last season.

“It goes without saying that I’d love Macca to stay,” Doyle said. “I’ve not been getting on at him personally but I know people like Flynny (Ryan Flynn) have.

“He’s a quality player and so it would be great if he’s still around.”