Kevin Gage played over 100 times for Sheffield United and, in his exclusive column for The Star, discusses United's 'Super September'
Even the most optimistic Blades probably wouldn’t have predicted such a ‘Super September’, but with four wins and a draw from three away and two home games, we now sit comfortably in sixth spot and seem very well equipped to maintain this fine form.
An ‘Outstanding October’ would be just perfect please! The ‘August Anguish’ of being in the bottom four seems an age away now but many of us weren’t actually too concerned at the time. It was always far too early to judge the team and everyone in the football world always states that only after ten or so games of a season is it probably the correct time to look objectively at the team’s position. Chris Wilder certainly stated such a few weeks ago.
So on that basis, and after 10 games, we’re doing OK. Not setting the league alight granted, but signs of good, healthy progress certainly. I think sixth, seventh or eighth in the table was probably the bare minimum that us fans would have accepted. Anything around mid-table and the rumblings of disapproval would have been stirring. Anything lower and the rumblings would have turned to roars!
However, I don’t think we still can’t really make an accurate judgement of this team after 10 games this season, simply because the current side bears no resemblance whatsoever to the team that started the first few games. This side hasn’t had 10 games! It’s been completely re-moulded and re-shaped and the change in personnel has been quite staggering in such a short space of time.
Of the defensive unit that started at Bolton, Long, Wilson, Brayford, and Hussey have all been jettisoned, and even O’Connell briefly lost his place after Millwall. Not only that, but we’ve gone from a back four to the three centre-back system, seamlessly as it’s turned out. Some teams need weeks and months to get changes like that sorted! Huge credit then to Chris and his coaching staff for identifying problem issues within the defence, then acting decisively to recruit new players and also giving opportunities to others.
And talking of opportunities, there are three players in particular who have grasped theirs with both hands and will be hard to shift from the team on current form. Kieron Freeman, Matty Done and Paul Coutts would have begun the first few weeks of the season wondering if they’d have any future at the club. Freeman and Coutts were even put on the transfer list as soon as the manager took over, whilst Done was played out-of-position on the left wing after the signing of Leon Clarke.
It’s to their utmost credit that all three of them have knuckled down, worked hard, waited for their chance to shine and taken it when it finally came. Freeman was a casualty of the Blades infatuation with Brayford, and was maybe justified in feeling a bit hard done by. He was always a decent player, but found himself out of favour and loaned to Pompey last season. He’s now revelling in the confidence the manager has shown in him, and repaying it in spades.
Matty Done has worked his socks off up front alongside Billy and has been an inspiration to the others with his constant pressing and harassing of defenders. He’s the type of player defenders hate! He’s a natural goal scorer and will surely pick up his fair share through the season that his hard work deserves.
And I’m leaving the best to last... Paul Coutts. Have we signed his twin brother this season? Did the other Paul Coutts leave in the summer? The Paul Coutts of this season is a man transformed into a top quality, hard-working, combative central midfielder and it’s great to witness. He dictates the tempo of the game and instinctively knows when to slow the game down and keep possession if need be.
He always looks for the pass forward if it’s on, but doesn’t try to force the issue if it’s not. He’s even bursting through the middle occasionally with the ball if the space arises, and with his great technique I’d like to see him take some shots from distance as he could be a real threat and pick up some valuable goals from midfield this season. I said a few weeks ago that he looked a few yards quicker this season as he glides effortlessly around the pitch, stroking his passes around.
A friend of mine even compared him to Gordon Cowans who had a brief spell at the Lane in the mid 90s at the end of his career. It’s not that too far-fetched actually as there are similarities, and I’m very well placed to comment as I had two season in midfield alongside ‘Sid’ Cowans at Aston Villa in the late 80s when he was still at his peak. (Yes Blades, I haven’t always been a full back, and played the first 80+ games of my career at Wimbledon in midfield!).
They both ‘zip’ the ball around with either foot, both aren’t physically imposing players, both not reliant on any real pace, and both like to orchestrate things from centre-mid. As player comparisons go, I’m sure Couttsy will be happy with that one!
He’s rapidly turning into my favourite player, although this is mainly due to the fact that he’s started wearing the correct colour boots... BLACK obviously! If you follow me on twitter you’ll know I despise these new-fangled, hi-viz, brightly coloured boots that nearly everyone wears these days (search #properboots).
There’s especially something quite wrong with a big, tough centre-half wearing bright orange/pink/white boots though I’m not telling Ebanks the Tank that to his face! Having said all that, I chose to have yellow hair for most of my career, so I might have been tempted to have boots to match. In fact, I’m certain I would!