Sheffield United: The statistic that proves the art of coaching is still being practiced at Bramall Lane
It will not have escaped Chris Wilder's notice that six of Sheffield United's goals this season, including all three against Bolton Wanderers last weekend, have been scored by veterans of his League One title winning squad.
The statistic proves, despite all the noise about targets and transfers, that the 50-year-old adopts a long-term view when it comes to assessing a player's worth. And, in this era of cheque book managers, the art of coaching is still being practiced at Bramall Lane.
"All of the lads were with us before we came up," Wilder said, reflecting on the exploits of Mark Duffy, Kieron Freeman and John Fleck at the University of Bolton Stadium. "We didn't get Duff in and Flecky in because we wanted them to sit in League One for five or six years. We brought them in because we knew they could move it on."
United will be searching for their fourth win in six Championship outings when Aston Villa visit South Yorkshire this weekend, having swatted Wanderers aside with an imperious performance in Greater Manchester. Repeating that display, or even coming close to matching it, will prove difficult against a team built on a multi-million pound budget. But, having analysed it closely after returning home on Saturday night, Wilder is convinced the qualities United showcased several hours earlier show how they can compete.
"We've gone there before and it's become the game they wanted," he said. "The talk this week was do what we want to do and counter what they do. The game management was excellent.
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"They'll possibly moan and say we had some decisions but I thought we were in total control. We had a great start and even at the finish, we moved the ball around the pitch well. But we weren't taking a pass for taking a passes sake. There was a point to it."
Barring the opening two matches, when they were beaten by Swansea City and Middlesbrough, United's growing maturity has been in evidence this term. It reflects not only the calibre of new arrivals such as David McGoldrick and Oliver Norwood, who boasts over 520 Championship outings between them, but also the development of those players who dragged United out of the third tier two seasons ago.
"Yes, we like people who work hard, who are prepared to put their bodies on the line and put in a shift," Wilder continued. "But we like and want intelligent players as well. We're constantly looking at what we do and how we do it to see where we can improve. But, as the process continues, if you've got clever players then it should happen almost naturally as well."
Another experienced operator, centre-forward Leon Clarke, could be forced to miss the meeting with fourth-placed Villa due to a hamstring complaint. Clarke was withdrawn midway through the victory over Wanderers after complaining of "tightness" according to Wilder and was being examined by medical staff yesterday. McGoldrick, who produced an impressive second-half cameo as United climbed to seventh, is expected to step-in if his team mate is declared unavailable for selection.