Kevin Gage played over 100 times for Sheffield United and, in his exclusive column for The Star, discusses United's recent resurgence after three wins on the bounce.
Two away wins on the spin, and I think it’s safe to say that our season has finally kicked into gear! We’ve still a few higher gears to reach yet mind, but the thoroughly deserved six points at two difficult grounds to visit show that we are very well equipped to take points from teams on our travels. The three centre-half system seems to suit the individuals concerned, with the experienced Jake Wright marshalling and Jack O’Connell looking more confident and very assured on the ball.
And in Ethan Ebanks-Landell, we have a uncompromising, strong, proper, ‘unit’ of a centre-half in the Chris Morgan mould, who’s comfy on the ball as well. Wolves must have some great centre-backs to be able to loan this lad out! As the season progresses I can see us getting stronger defensively, be it playing with three centre-halfs or the more normal two, and I think we’ll turn into a very difficult team to beat when away from Bramall Lane. Now if we can just get our home form sorted...
On the face of it, playing in front of 20,000+ at home should be a huge advantage, and when the team are flying high, playing with confidence, rattling in the goals, and the crowd are roaring their approval, it obviously is. But too many times in the past couple of years, we haven’t played in a way that excites us fans, or given us much to cheer about at all.
The Lane has been too quiet, too often, and it’s not been the crowd's fault either. Enough words have been written and spoken about last season's failings on the pitch, but there was also an air of the ‘safety-first’ about the style of play during the latter parts of the Clough regime at home games. Exciting it certainly wasn’t!
Over the past few seasons, there have been far too many times where we have let the opposition get the upper hand in the early stages of our home matches. Opposing players have come to Bramall Lane, see the fabulous facilities, walk out onto the perfect pitch, and think along the lines of: “I fancy this today”. I should know... I’ve thought the same at many grounds when I played! Players and teams seem to raise their game when coming to the Lane, and especially in the first 30 minutes we’ve really struggled to get going.
This breeds frustration and anxiety in the crowd and invariably leads to nervous, anxious first half team performances, which sometimes also invariably carries over to the second half. A whole new mindset of how to start games aggressively and positively, or “on-the-front-foot” as our manager describes it, needs to be instilled into our group of players, and you can bet your house on the fact that it’s exactly what Chris Wilder is doing.
A Sheffield United team should be starting every home game in a manner that will knock teams out of their stride immediately, lift the huge home crowd and set the tone for the next 90 minutes. They should tear into the opposition, snarling and snapping at their heels. Turn those opposition thoughts from the “I fancy it” to the "my God, this will be tough today!”
The team from the Steel City should live up to its name and should also reflect the identity of its supporters. A strong, honest, wholehearted, hard-working side playing in an enthusiastic, committed and positive style, right from the first whistle, will always get the respect and support of us fans and we’ll make enough noise to make Bramall Lane the most intimidating place to come to in the fixture list. Of course, we also hope we also have enough ability in the side to win matches, but if we are beaten we should have played in a style that leaves nothing behind on the pitch in terms of effort and application.
Do this every home game and we’ll not only carry the players off on our shoulders in victory, but also, just as importantly, we’ll carry the team off on their shields in defeat. This is purely metaphorical of course, as there’s no way I’m carrying the likes of Ebanks-Landell anywhere soon!
We can’t win every game, but we should always have a damned good go. Starting Saturday. From the kick-off please. Let’s get this season up into those higher gears. In fact, let’s get into top gear ASAP. And on that bomb shell... (Apologies for that. I couldn’t resist!) UTB!