Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Take a bow, the Blades' brilliant wing-backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens
If memory serves, I believe it was that great wordsmith and eloquent orator Ian Dowie who came up with the word ‘bouncebackability’ and even though he’d made it up on the spot during a Soccer Saturday Sky TV link, we all instantly knew what he meant!
Whatever it did, or does mean, Sheffield United’s result and second-half performance in particular at Norwich was the perfect antidote for any possible lingering disappointment from the Newcastle game, and far from the wheels coming off our season, the Blades express roller-coaster just kept powering straight ahead.
We proved it would take more than a couple of highly dubious VAR decisions and opposition goalkeeping heroics to derail this particular ride, and we have to accept that there will be one or two low points on our journey this season. Last Thursday was most definitely one, but it’s gone and after Norwich, it’s completely forgotten about. Our bouncebackability was tested to the limit, and we passed with flying colours. Onwards, and upwards.
Talking of bouncing, I’m reliably informed that there were also some choice words ‘bouncing’ around the dressing rooms walls at half-time, but whatever was said, the players responded magnificently. No more so than the two guys I’m now singling out for huge praise, because quite frankly in a team that has generally upped its game to meet Premier League standards, these two players have stood out as top-quality star performers. So step forward and take a deserved bow our two wide, wonderful, wing-backs!
Yes, Enda Stevens and George Baldock have both been immense this season, and that’s taking nothing away from any of the others who have performed so brilliantly too. Chris Basham, John Lundstram, John Fleck, and indeed any number of players have stepped up a gear and look like seasoned Premier League players.
But with our two goals on Sunday being both made and scored by our dynamic wing-back duo, the focus fell on them this weekend. Their defending has always been sound, but this season they have taken their attacking output to a higher level completely, and although they use totally different techniques and styles to deliver from those crucial wide areas the results are usually the same: a reliable supply of quality crosses for attacking players to feed on.
It might be a low driven cross, a slide-rule pass that cuts out the ‘keeper, a pull-back from the touchline or like at Wolves or Norwich, a measured curling clip to the far post. But I’m now watching these two and EXPECTING them to deliver the right cross at the right time.
When Blades are in full ‘Wilderball’ mode we get into these wide areas umpteen times a game, and George has now added step-overs and pirouettes to his quick feet and bustling style! What a superb piece of individual skill his goal was. Enda has a more smooth controlled style with that sublime left foot teasing players into the tackle before he whips the ball over them, around them or simply ‘nutmegs’ them!
I can give him no finer praise than to say he’s as good at putting the ball through a players legs as Glyn Hodges was in his prime. And trust me, that is praise indeed!
And of course, the wing-backs have to have the energy, fitness and desire to actually get up the pitch and get into these positions in the first place. In common with all the lads in our fabulous team, they are never found wanting in these departments either.
It’s a thankless role sometimes, as there are obviously occasions when the move breaks down or play is switched and after making a lung-bursting break forward, they have to do the same chasing back. It also must be quite weird at times to see one of your centre-backs galloping past on an overlap too!
It's obviously a position I know extremely well, so can totally relate to the difficulties and issues faced, though I never had an over-lapping centre-half to help me!
I played virtually a whole season as a wing-back with Aston Villa as we hit on a system that suited us players perfectly. It was actually so successful we finished runners-up to Liverpool and it also got Graham Taylor the England job!
I loved the freedom to get forward as much as possible and having been converted from an attacking midfielder to a full back half-way through my Wimbledon career, it also suited me perfectly! I’m sure George and Enda feel the same way and although all full-backs have to be good on the ball and an attacking threat these days, in the wing-back role there is even more emphasis attached to it.
The opportunities have been there for these two boys to shine and use their undoubted ability, and they are certainly taking them this season, and getting better and better it seems with every game. Keep at it boys, please.
Kevin Gage owns The Manor House hotel/bar/café, High Street, Dronfield.