It was only a random comment made in the TC Suite at the Lane 5 mins after the match but it struck a chord with me and because of the phrase used, I’ve since had a song in my head that I simply can’t get rid of!
“Well Kev, plenty of reasons to be cheerful today,” said one of the season-ticket regulars. Bang! That was all it took and as I left Bramall Lane on Saturday, the Ian Dury and The Blockheads hit ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3’ has been playing in my head ever since! I never did find out what happened to Parts 1 and 2, but as far as the Blades are concerned, we have dozens of reasons to be very cheerful indeed at the moment!
The superlatives were being thrown around like confetti after the win against Port Vale, and rightly so because it was as convincing a victory as I can remember in recent times. Total domination in all areas against a decent team, and with two of the four disallowed goals seemingly perfectly legitimate, it could have been a real trouncing.
It was a similar story at Shrewsbury on Tuesday night. Another three goals, another clean sheet, and the just rewards of an assured, dominant performance that produced another 18 shots at goal - with a hugely impressive total of 12 on target. Maintain stats like those for the rest of the season and assuming our defence doesn’t implode, we’ll go up. It’s that simple.
What’s not simple of course is keeping the players' desire, enthusiasm, fitness, form, and the dozens of other personal factors involved that go into the making of a promotion winning team, all at maximum levels over the next six months. We can’t reasonably expect to remain unbeaten until May, nice as it would be!
There may be form blips, injuries to key players, bad decisions and even bad luck along the way this season, but I get the distinct feeling that Chris Wilder and his staff are too focused, too knowledgeable and too experienced to let this momentum-building, promotion-bound Blades train to be fully derailed any time soon. Chris, alongside Alan Knill, will draw from their recent success with Northampton and apply the same principles to our team, our squad and indeed our whole club.
That process started on day one of their appointment. The fruits of their labour are now being seen by us all. The players are certainly rising to the challenges given to them and the standards being demanded of them by the management. Chris, in an interview this week, picked up on a couple of things he spotted on Saturday that made him particularly happy.
I also had a few, some of which maybe have gone unnoticed. Therefore, here are my own personal “Reasons To Be Cheerful”.
Part One: Kieron Freeman's tackle with the score still at 0-0 was truly outstanding. Caught out-of-position, to show the desire to not only sprint back, but to then stretch every muscle in his legs to make that last-ditch block tackle was immense. Kieron, if you’re reading this, I actually stood up and applauded, and as the crowd around me realised the importance of that moment, many others joined in, roaring their praise. Top quality defending my friend.
Part Two: Mark Duffy was substituted again, even though he was having another good game. The modern game, however, is not just about the eleven players on the pitch. Subs these days are vital and can made a huge difference when used correctly. We have two such players on our bench and Chris uses Scougall and Chapman at various times for maximum impact. As creative, forward-thinking attacking midfielders players, it’s then usually Duffy who gets hooked off!
Many managers will shake a player's hand as he leaves the pitch, some may offer a pat on the back or the head. You sometimes see a consoling arm around the shoulder. In all my time in football, I’d never seen any manager do to a subbed player what Chris Wilder did on Saturday. He gave Duffy a full-on ‘bear hug’, both arms wrapped around, like he was embracing a close family member who’d been away abroad for years, the kind of hug you regularly see at airports in arrivals! They’re clearly a tight close-knit unit these new Blades!
Part Three; Chris Hussey, who hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts to his Lane career, was on as a sub late in the second half. He pressed his opponent well, forcing him to pass backwards. Hussey continued running to pressurise the other defender, who then had to pass back to his keeper. Undeterred, Hussey continued his run at full pace, closing down the keeper, who then under pressure, scuffed his kick.
The crowd roared their approval and in those 10 seconds Chris Hussey realised what it was to be a Blade with 20,000 fans on your side and willing you on. Even at 4-0 up, his desire and his enthusiasm epitomized the resurgence of the team in terms of attitude this season. Without even touching the ball, he instantly put his marker down as a new Blade, won the fans over, and joined the party!
So, those were just a few of my many reasons to be cheerful and yes, I’m still singing the song. It makes a change from the song of the last few seasons which for me has been the Talking Heads’ ‘Road To Nowhere’. We may need to find one to keep us going this season. Surely, there’s only one that fits the bill, and I’m old enough to remember it well... It’s by Yazz, back in 1988, in a red jumpsuit, singing “The Only Way Is Up”. Fingers crossed! UTB