One truth behind Sheffield United’s turnaround is that 14 unbeaten league games is not necessarily about having better players.
Around half the regular team were in or around it last season, too. Proof that, individually and collectively, the side under-performed massively.
Some of those players look unrecognisable now when, in fact, they are just a bit older. Fitter? Possibly, although Chris Wilder has commendably not damned his predecessor with that old chestnut. Better organised and focused? Definitely.
It’s the basics that have transformed those players and harnessed them to some astute acquisitions; essentially hunting for possession as far up the park as possible and aiming to play through the opposition before they can cover in numbers.
All underpinned by the recruitment of reliable, no-nonsense defenders and an excellent goalkeeper in Simon Moore, whose £500,000 fee raised eyebrows but now looks money well spent.
Once an effective unit is in place, however, the quality of individuals does make a huge impact. For all the earthy principles instilled by Wilder and Alan Knill, the reality is that United have the edge over most League One sides player for player. And it is coming the fore.
Tony Currie knows a good footballer when he sees one. He singled out several in a recent chat with the Bramall Lane legend – notably Paul Coutts, John Fleck and Mark Duffy. Three guys at the heart of making the team play.
But, as a player of wonderful vision in his day, TC sees something else as well.
“The biggest thing for me is that the man on the ball has got more options than in the last few years – they’re all wanting it,” he says.
That’s also why, with confidence surging through the ranks, the quality of the aforementioned trio is shining through.
Coutts: “He’s not shown consistently what he can do; this year he has. He looks strong, fit and fast – and he can do quite a bit with the ball.”
Fleck: “You can tell what he can do. I think there’s still a lot more to come from Flecky.”
Duffy (back at Charlton on Saturday): “I like him. He’s destroyed us playing for two different teams at the Lane (Scunthorpe and Burton). He’s got great vision and passing ability. I like seeing him in the middle going where the ball is.”
One thing United could do without is opposition red cards at Bramall Lane after encountering all nine men in the away penalty area twice in four days. XI against XI is more where the class tells.