How Sheffield United are learning from the NFL as innovative coach drives promotion bid

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Sheffield United are following the lead of the NFL in America as they look to stay ahead of the curve in their bid for promotion this season, one of the Blades’ key men has revealed.

United consolidated their grip on second place in the Championship on Monday evening with a 2-1 win away at Wigan Athletic, their fourth victory on the road on the spin.

They go into Boxing Day’s clash against play-off hopefuls Coventry City looking to keep up the pressure on leaders Burnley, in their bid to return to the top-flight for the first time since being relegated early last year.

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And to help them do so, United’s players are being given enhanced responsibility over their training and preparation for games. Oli McBurnie revealed earlier in the season how he and skipper Billy Sharp had been tasked with finding areas that United could exploit against Birmingham City – with McBurnie later scoring in a 1-1 draw – and a number of injured players have been assigned other roles to help keep them involved in the build-up to matches.

And as Republic of Ireland defender John Egan said after his header sent United on their way to victory at Wigan, it is an idea straight out of the NFL playbook. He and Ollie Norwood were given the responsibility of devising set-pieces ahead of the trip to the DW Stadium, with United’s opening goal coming from a Norwood corner – albeit one that was supposed to hit Ciaran Clark at the far post, rather than Egan at the near.

“Ollie Norwood, everyone knows his delivery is top class so we've no excuse not to score more goals,” Egan said. “We need to get in the right areas and finish the chances when we get them.

Oliver Norwood and John Egan of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / SportimageOliver Norwood and John Egan of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Oliver Norwood and John Egan of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“The gaffer puts a lot of onus on us as players to lead different bits and pieces, so me and Ollie had a couple of set piece meetings this week and it's paid off. So we might be in again next week!

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“That's one thing football lacks, player-led stuff. I watch a lot of NFL and it's all kind of payer-led, so the gaffer is trying to bring that in, in some aspects. And the lads have really taken to it. It's good.”

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