Alan Biggs’ Sheffield United Column: Much focus has been on Blades’ offensive threat under Chris Wilder – but their resilience defensively deserves much credit too
Derbies can be a hindrance to teams chasing promotion, as Sheffield United’s two wretched stalemates with their city neighbours amply demonstrate. And there’s another at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
But with no disrespect to Rotherham, this is an entirely different animal. As a fixture, that is. As opposed to a judgment on a rightfully proud team that can fight and snarl with the best of them.
And whereas the focus has been on the Blades’ drive and creativity, as it will be this weekend against relegation-threatened opposition, it’s worth recognising their doggedness for a moment.
Four successive clean sheets, and ten points gained, in the aftermath of the self-destruct 3-3 draw at Aston Villa, deserves acknowledgment.
Frankly, Chris Wilder’s side don’t look like conceding. While a rare failure on the front foot helped shape the non-event of Hillsborough on Monday, the value of the other side of the game may have just as big a bearing on the run-in.
United have six of their last eleven matches at home - where they haven’t conceded in winning all their last five.
John Egan, covered occasionally by the redoubtable Richard Stearman, is an absolute rock in the centre. This £4m record signing has looked worth twice that fee for my money.
Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell are back in harness either side, although Martin Cranie and Enda Stevens have proved just as reliable in their roles.
Adaptable, too. Cranie, as a second half substitute at Hillsborough, vindicated a change of shape as he not only shut down Owls’ danger man Rolando Aarons but provided a threat going forward.
These are guys seldom in the spotlight but who deserve a mention. Vital to what lies ahead because the Blades have to make their scoring power count.
In other areas, I’m guessing Mark Duffy will be a good shout to start on Saturday after Kieran Dowell, whose selection was justified on recent performances, couldn’t supply the creativity United lacked against Wednesday.
Up front, perm any two from four. Although Billy Sharp’s contributions, whether he scores or not, validate a place, it’s up for grabs between Gary Madine and David McGoldrick alongside him, with Scott Hogan looking to start a run.
Hogan’s former club Brentford, where he enjoyed the best form of his career, are at Bramall Lane on Tuesday to complete a home double-header.
A maximum haul would send Wilder’s men full sail to Elland Road for what will be billed a top-two shoot-out with Leeds.
Yes, another derby but again entirely different in character. The Blades and Leeds, especially under these managers, tend to have a go at each other when they meet.
It was an excellent game at the Lane in December, decided only by a late defensive howler in Leeds’ favour. Expect another full-tilt contest - but there are six big points up for grabs first.