Five important lessons Sheffield United must learn in order to reinvigorate their promotion push

Sheffield United’s grip on the Championship’s second automatic promotion berth was further weakened when they were beaten 3-2 at Millwall.
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The Star’s James Shield identifies five important things we discovered during a difficult afternoon in south London.

You need two things to win a game of football: Control, which comes via calibre, and a combative streak. United had neither during the first-half, as Gary Rowett’s side won the physical battle and also the footballing one too.

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The visitors should have been doing cartwheels when they came off level at the break thanks to Tommy Doyle’s free-kick, which cancelled-out the first of Tom Bradshaw’s three goals. In fairness, they improved after the break with James McAtee restoring parity after the former Barnsley striker had scored again. Millwall appeared to be running on fumes by the time more careless defending handed them the game.

He could have done a job: Oliver Burke has talent. Lots of it, otherwise the likes of RB Leipzig, Celtic and Werder Bremen wouldn’t have signed him during his nomadic career. But he didn’t show it during his spell with United. There were no complaints when they cut him loose last summer.

Burke used this fixture to showcase what he’s all about, troubling his former club with his power, pace and direct running. United would have benefited from having him among their number, particularly when they were struggling to establish a foothold before the interval.

Daniel Jebbison can do it. But he’s young and still learning the game. Burke showed his experience.

Sheffield United endured a chastening afternoon when they faced Millwall at The Den: Paul Terry / SportimageSheffield United endured a chastening afternoon when they faced Millwall at The Den: Paul Terry / Sportimage
Sheffield United endured a chastening afternoon when they faced Millwall at The Den: Paul Terry / Sportimage
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Perhaps we’re now seeing why Heckingbottom wanted to boost his attack during last month’s transfer window, before learning United had been placed under an embargo.

The lad was a lucky boy: Sander Berge was booked for a foul during the closing stages. He could already have been on a caution, after appearing to go down far too easily in the box in an attempt to win a first-half penalty.

The Norwegian still needs to impose himself more on proceedings. Otherwise his technical ability won’t shine through. But at this stage of the campaign, United can’t afford to lose him or anyone else to suspension either. Discipline, even if officiating has become a source of concern at Bramall Lane, is required.

The Star's James Shield looks back on Sheffield United's match at MillwallThe Star's James Shield looks back on Sheffield United's match at Millwall
The Star's James Shield looks back on Sheffield United's match at Millwall

Two big winners: Few, if any of those who started the game for United, could be satisfied with their performances. Except Oli McBurnie. Despite being selected to score goals, the striker was the visitors’ most effective weapon when it came to repelling Millwall’s set-pieces - standing up to their muscle when too many of those around him shrunk away.

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McAtee’s introduction also helped swing the momentum back towards United. The skill he produced to fire home past George Long was superb. He should start more often than not.

Former Sheffield United player Oliver Burke was excellent for Millwall: Paul Terry / SportimageFormer Sheffield United player Oliver Burke was excellent for Millwall: Paul Terry / Sportimage
Former Sheffield United player Oliver Burke was excellent for Millwall: Paul Terry / Sportimage

An important lesson: This time last week, United were second in the table and 10 points clear of third-placed Middlesbrough. Now that gap has been cut to four after being beaten by Michael Carrick’s side en route to Millwall.

The Teessiders would still rather be in United’s position, particularly as Heckingbottom’s men have played one game fewer. But recent events have shown that it’s all very well talking about experience and leadership in the dressing room. Those qualities need to be displayed on the pitch too.