Alan Biggs: The mentality Sheffield United need if they are to perform Premier League miracle

If Sheffield United are to muster a genuine fight for their Premier League life, only a simple mental trick can spark it.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 12:47 pm

Coincidentally it is the same psychological weapon that will be ranged against them this weekend.

Plymouth Argyle come to Bramall Lane with the proverbial “nothing to lose” in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Of course, that’s a state of mind more naturally achieved by a League One outfit visiting a top flight one, albeit the bottomteam.

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Sheffield United's Billy Sharp celebrates scoring his side's winner from the penalty spot in the 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at Bramall Lane last Tuesday. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

For the Blades, it’s been tough to suppress the anxiety, self-doubt and sheer depression of a wretched first half of the season.

Yet that is exactly what they have had to try to do. To play as if there is nothing at stake - when, in fact, there is as near to everything, certainly in financial terms, as football can throw up.

It worked against Newcastle; it rebounded against Spurs. A fine line between playing with freedom and over-playing, although the sloppy start against Tottenham, and errors for the first two goals, gave United no option but to be open.

Against far superior opposition, the outcome is predictable.

Previously, it wasn’t just about the twin breakthrough victories over Bristol Rovers, in the Cup third round, and Newcastle, in the league at the 18th attempt, as the manner of them.

Looking just at the results, the Blades squeezed through by a single goal in each case.

But the performances spoke of a team on the front foot, attacking from the start, determined to express itself.

The execution wasn’t quite in line at either end of the pitch but against an admittedly poor Newcastle, for instance, United played with a liberation not often associated with a side in their desperate position.

It’s normally about grinding out results and you can’t deny there will have to be strong elements of that. But the Blades had dipped in some many tight games that they might as well go for it.

The pressure was on and yet off at the same time - as it will be for the rest of the season if there is to be any hope of turning the tide.

Manager Chris Wilder and his assistant Alan Knill will have thrown that switch in the stuff we don’t see behind the scenes

They are demanding pair, although Wilder is most comfortable as the bad cop, happy to do plenty of “barking” as he calls it.

He has long known, however, that the time to make critical points most forcibly is when teams are confident enough to take it and respond to it.

There is nothing to be gained from kicking a man when he is down, hence Wilder’s kid gloves response, in public at least, to even those performances that failed to reflect his side as a fighting force.

They had to start righting things for themselves and by themselves in the end; only achievable by banishing fears.

And that’s not good news for the team attempting to apply a similar mind game on them this Saturday.

Not least because the Cup has not only got United’s season going at last but for where it might lead.

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