Alan Biggs' Sheffield United Column: Of all the turnarounds at Bramall Lane since Chris Wilder took over, THIS man's tops the lot
Made for the Premier League, says the manager; a player who could barely get a game in the Championship. Of all the startling turnarounds in Chris Wilder’s time, John Lundstram’s tops the lot.
In many ways it supersedes Sheffield United’s unbeaten start in the Premier League - because you can’t be stunned or blown away by something you half expect.
No regular Blades watcher in the local media will have been surprised by either their point at Bournemouth or their equally deserved win over Crystal Palace. It looked an attainable target.
But if you’d told this column that Lundstram would start both opening games and become the goal scoring hero of Bramall Lane’s first top flight triumph for 12 years, you might have seen one of those shocked emojis in place of the face at the top of it.
And that’s the genius of this manager - no other word does justice. He foresaw something virtually none of us did. Namely that Lundstram could be more suited to the Premier League.
What a stunning statement. And it’s not that I’m the one making it.
Wilder told me post Palace: “We always thought John would come into the reckoning if we managed to get up.
“He’s got talent, energy, plays off both feet and is a mobile modern-day midfield player. They are the attributes we think a midfield player has got to have - especially in this division.”
So there you have it; promotion creating rather than closing down what Wilder conservatively calls “a little opening for John now.”
It’s all the more reason also to disregard Wally from Woodseats when it comes to that detestable form of social media bullying ... of players a small minority with loud voices gang up on and, in their wisdom, dismiss as “rubbish” or “crap.”
Lundstram suffered more than most from that unnecessary and spiteful nonsense during sporadic appearances across two seasons in the Championship after the former Everton trainee moved, at 23, from Wilder’s former club, Oxford United.
It’s always been a case of finding the right fit, for the team and himself, rather than a slight on the ability of a player who represented England from Under 17s to Under 20s.
Wilder explained: “We signed John as a young player to develop and I think it’s been really difficult for him.
“First and foremost, he had to fill the boots of Paul Coutts, who was a really popular and outstanding player at the time he broke his leg. John was a different type of player and had a bit of a struggle.
“Then, last year, we played two central midfield players in Ollie Norwood and John Fleck and a number ten (Mark Duffy or Kieran Dowell), so he had a struggle to get in the team.
“But the shape of the team at the moment suits him.”
Whether Wilder goes with a third successive unchanged line-up against Leicester on Saturday could hinge on the fitness of Fleck and Callum Robinson (so far the only starter among the ten new recruits & impressively so), who both had to be subbed last Sunday.
Other factors include accommodating Luke Freeman, brilliant from the bench. “Luke was energetic, quality on the ball and did a great job for us,” said Wilder.
And record signing Oli McBurnie: “Outstanding when he came on. Led the line and a proper Sheffield United footballer everybody’s going to be really excited about.”
Not to mention talisman skipper Billy Sharp, straining at the leash on the bench. Happy days, indeed.