Alan Biggs Column: Sheffield United close in on a winning groove
Ok, it was only the League Cup first round and an edge-out on penalties.
But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a manager more upbeat in defeat. And with good reason.
A young Hull City side showing nine changes should have been seen off at Bramall Lane in midweek, no doubt about that. Yet it wasn’t the result that left the abiding impression.
It was the latent promise in a building Sheffield United squad that looks increasingly close to finding a winning groove.
Statistics on possession, shots and crosses – especially that last one – will bear this out but the visual evidence was just as compelling.
Chris Wilder’s Blades are shaping up, even if four games and three losses might indicate otherwise.
I’d suggest the four goals scored is a fraction of their potential. That’s the challenge which Norwich City’s visit on Saturday brings; delivering from a unit that looks so much stronger for the prized acquisition of Oliver Norwood.
The fact the accomplished midfielder from Brighton missed the ultimately decisive penalty was a cruel irony because the rest of his debut was utterly flawless.
Norwood orchestrated midfield from the opening seconds, looking as if Bramall Lane had been his career-long home.
It was utter assurance and the mouth waters at an eventual engine room trio of Norwood, John Fleck and Paul Coutts, who is being eased back after achieving full fitness.
Ben Woodburn has to be a slower work in progress, still finding ways to impose his undoubted talent on a strike department boasting two of the Championship’s leading scorers last season in Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp, who now has two goals already this time.
Clarke has yet to click, missing clear chances, but is leading the line menacingly. David McGoldrick is in the mix, plus AN Other as Wilder pursues a striker as well as a left-side midfielder from a list including Middlesbrough’s Marvin Johnson.
On Tuesday, I thought Enda Stevens rose to the challenge of left wing back competition from a targeted newcomer while Kieron Freeman showed flashes of the right side quality that could, and probably should,thrust him ahead of George Baldock.
One other thing. The clever manoeuvre that saw the departing Lee Evans replaced by Norwood showed why transfer activity should always be manager-led in my view and not governed by executives.
Experts in the field being trusted to operate their budget is the old way and still the best way. Especially with a manager you can trust.