SIR Alex Ferguson once insisted that the most important ingredient in any recipe for footballing success is a club’s medical department.
You can sign the greatest talents in the world, the managerial Godfather from Glasgow argued, but if they are in no fit state to perform on the pitch then their influence will always be negligible.
It is a theory to which Danny Wilson, Ferguson’s counterpart at Sheffield United, readily subscribes.
Indeed, speaking as his team prepare for combat with Charlton Athletic, the former Northern Ireland international insisted the contribution Bramall Lane’s physios, conditioners and assorted clinicians have made to United’s success this season must not be overlooked.
“We’ve had remarkably few injuries and that has really been a help,” Wilson told The Star last night. “And when we have had them, fingers crossed, they’ve usually come back pretty quickly.
“Matthew Lowton came back faster than we initially expected when he hurt himself not so long ago.
“Being able to select a pretty consistent starting 11 helps. Having as many players available as possible definitely does. Perhaps the most pleasing thing is that the injuries we have had, by and large, have been unavoidable.
“Impact injuries rather than niggles and strains.
“Because we’ve not had too many people in the treatment room, it means those who have been in there have been able to receive really, really good care,” Wilson added. “They’ve benefited from getting that full attention and focus.
“Long-term, it’s still an area (medical) that we’d like to invest in because if there’s suddenly a glut of admissions then we want to make sure everyone is still afforded the same care.”
However, not all of United’s achievements so far should be attributed to the work of inconspicuous professionals behind the scenes.
The decision to persevere with both Kevin McDonald and Michael Doyle despite indifferent starts to the campaign has reaped dividends of late with their partnership bringing a poise and balance to midfield.
McDonald, the more artistic of Wilson’s capable Celts, showcased his full repertoire of skills at Bury last weekend to help United consolidate their grip on second place.
Doyle, however, was one of the unsung heroes of that victory and his combative approach means he is likely to emerge as a key figure against the League One leaders.
“Michael was excellent,” said Wilson. “And one of the things which has pleased me the most about him is his discipline.
“Michael took a real whack early on and he didn’t react at all. He just got on with his job.
“A few months ago he’d have been shouting at the ref, shouting at the opponents and probably anyone else within a half-mile radius.
“But it’s that type of control which has made him so effective.”
Doyle is not the only one of Wilson’s players to benefit from such sang-froid.
“To only have a couple of people serve suspensions over the festive period was quite remarkable,” he said. “It’s testament to the discipline the lads have shown.
“That has to continue because it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to be fairly constant in terms of our selections.
“If you are picking up bookings left, right and centre then that can be impossible to do.
“But as well as we’ve done in that department, we’ve also got to make sure it continues.”
One to watch
Bradley Wright-Phillips is Charlton’s top goalscorer in League One competition with 14 goals in his last 24 starts. But the former Manchester City, Plymouth Argyle and Southampton striker has not hit the target since November’s derby with Brentford.
United have not lost any of their last three visits to The Valley. Indeed, they last tasted defeat there nearly 12 years ago. Charlton, however, did triumph 2-0 at Bramall Lane earlier this season.