Sheffield United: As Chris Wilder’s squad closes in on a club record, one member of the squad responsible for setting it reveals what it takes to keep eight consecutive clean sheets

They are unlikely to equal the Championship record of 25, set by Queens Park Rangers eight years ago, or even match the grand total of 24 achieved by Wolverhampton Wanderers last season.

By James.Shield1
Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 5:47 pm

But if Sheffield United prevent Bristol City from scoring when they visit South Yorkshire later this month, Chris Wilder's side will find themselves on the brink of creating a piece of Bramall Lane history.

After beating Leeds last weekend, a result which saw them climb to second in the table, it is now seven games since United last conceded a goal. Another shut-out, this time against Lee Johnson's men, would see Wilder's squad equal the eight consecutive clean sheets the club achieved under Nigel Clough's tutelage during the 2013/14 League One campaign.

Stefan Scougall, a member of the team which set that landmark following a goalless draw at Preston North End, provided an insight into what makes a team so successful at nullifying opponents.

"First off, you've got to have that togetherness," The Scot, who also worked under Wilder, said. "It's about everyone going out there and wanting to work for each other. Not just talking about it, actually doing it. There’s a difference.

"What I mean by that is, although the defenders and the goalkeeper are always going to take most of the credit, and rightly so, for keeping a clean sheet, others have got to contribute as well.

"You can't be a forward and think 'I'm just going to rely on the lads at the back to keep the ball out of the net. That's their job.' You've got to be willing to help out when you don't have the ball. Buy into that whole group ethic, which we did then and the boys clearly have now."

United, who travelled to Spain for some rest, relaxation and warm-weather training following their win at Elland Road, have established a reputation for innovative, attacking football since appointing Wilder in the summer of 2016. They still boast one of the division's most prolific frontlines, with only Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and leaders Norwich City scoring more goals so far this term. But in recent weeks, a watertight defence has been the driving force behind United's climb into the automatic promotion positions.

It is something Wilder attributes to "a basic desire to keep the ball out of the net", witnessed when Martin Cranie and John Egan both flung themselves in front of shots as Leeds threatened to run riot during the opening stages of Saturday's Yorkshire derby.

However, as Scougall reveals, that it too modest and simplistic an explanation. The midfielder, now playing for Carlisle, also insists forwards such as Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick must also take credit for a remarkable run stretching back to the closing stages of February 8th's draw at Villa Park.

"Clean sheets, or a long run of clean sheets, don't just happen by accident," he said. "A lot of work on the training ground goes into it. Even if it's half an hour a session, it all adds up.

"Back then, Cloughie used to drill it into us not to concede because that meant we wouldn't lose and he trusted us to score."

"When Chris first went to the 3-5-2 system, very quickly everybody was taught their jobs within that," Scougall, who left United in 2017, continued. "The wing-backs knew when to tuck in, the midfielders knew where to be when we were out of possession and the same goes for the strikers and so on. There's a lot of work goes in behind the scenes."

United entered the international break having kept 17 clean sheets so far this term and, given the relentless nature of the division, it seems inconceivable that they will not concede again during their remaining eight outings. Four of the teams they must face - Hull City, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham City and Preston - feature among the competition's 12 most prolific teams.

"I think the biggest thing, when you watch United, is you can tell they're a team in the true sense of the word," Scougall said. "With the manager being who he is and the characters in that dressing room I know, that determination to buy into what happening is all part of it."