Alan Biggs: Sheffield United have it in them to get over this huge hurdle

Empty grounds. It’s the same for both sides. Or is it?

Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 1:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 1:28 pm

As this was filed, Bramall Lane was about to embark on its first lockdown experience in the Premier League.

Besides an early pattern favouring away teams - for vacuum-packed reasons that are easily understood - another key element is bound to enter the mix.

It’s about mentality and professionalism and turning up. And it could, or even should, favour Sheffield United in the final straight, despite their rickety restart.

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A general view of the stadium during the English FA Cup quarter-final football match between Sheffield United and Arsenal at Bramall Lane in Sheffield(Photo by ANDREW BOYERS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

As a team big on intensity in a tight stadium that has absolutely rocked this season, an empty stadium has to handicap the Blades. Certainly, it must encourage visitors, including the sophisticates of Jose Mourinho’s Spurs, in town this Thursday.

However, the effects on the individual and their response to it are worth noting, judging from a fascinating recent conversation with former England Test captain Michael Vaughan.

Naturally he was thinking cricket rather than football but he made a great point about what might be termed “training ground players”, those more likely to shine without a crowd.

You know the sort. Of whom it’s said by his manager or a team-mate: “You should see him in training - he’s been brilliant all week. Don’t know what happened today.”

While no-one could survive in the Premier League on that basis, it’s interesting that Chris Wilder has been probing the psychology in reverse.

Sheffield United, virtually to a man, have players who’ve unfailingly turned up on the biggest occasions under the most pressure.

Without having any Billy Bigtimes, either. Now comes an adjustment to a very different climate for what are certainly not “training ground players” in the derogatory sense.

Vaughan told me: “I do believe there are many sports people that get to the highest level who need a crowd. They need that noise, that pressure.”

On the flip side of that (he’s talking cricket but it’s so transferable), Vaughan added: “It might be that some players are a little bit fearful of the crowd and the noise. They might flourish in an environment where they don’t have that.”

Exactly the opposite of that has happened with United - so far. Which should encourage rather than discourage.

It could help explain some strange results all round - and Vaughan knows what he’s talking about as a batsman whose Test average exceeded his average across first class cricket.

Fair to say I think that the mentality of Wilder’s dressing room, packed with leaders and strong characters, is to stand strong before any crowd; be inspired by it.

Neither are they the sort to perform in the week and not on the big day. But you can see the gap that is having to be bridged in terms of recovering their former momentum in an alien environment.

It’s something to get used to but their overall professionalism and unity as a group suggests they will, as an improved display in the narrow FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Arsenal strongly indicated.

More of that and United still have time to get their season back up and running.

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