Alan Biggs' Sheffield United Column: Step forward the unsung hero of Blades' overlapping centre-halves who's used to sitting back

All that managerial guff lauding “work rate and commitment” blown up as “bog standard” by Chris Wilder in one 40 second clip highlighting his performance expectations of Sheffield United after defeat to Leicester last weekend.

Monday, 26th August 2019, 17:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 14:20 pm
John Egan of Sheffield Utd and Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

And an admission that he “didn’t know how” his all-change side had beaten a more threatening Blackburn Rovers in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday.

Now to explode another myth; that the Blades’ innovative style is all about attacking to the detriment of defending, as some might have concluded from their 2-1 home defeat to Leicester.

Loose as United were in possession, maybe the result was more to do with a failure to impose their front-foot approach.

Meanwhile, John Egan stands in the shadows while a global spotlight still shines on the secret we’ve known for literally years - of United’s overlapping centre backs.

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Now Egan has been invited to step forward by as traditional a centre half as the Blades have known in recent years. And a bloody good one.

Chris Morgan suggests not only that Egan should share the credit for a system that is only revolutionary in the eyes of the Premier League audience - which, for better or worse, is most of the world’s population - but that he should get most of it.

The idea of fellow defenders deserting him and fleeing upfield would have been anathema to the man who skippered Neil Warnock’s Blades to a one-season stay in the top flight 12 years ago.

But, as an enraptured convert to the ploy, Morgs knows it could not work but for the monumental contribution of the one centre back who stays at home.

The ex Blade, who was in the management team when Egan was briefly on loan at Bramall Lane, casts his mind back to last summer when the Republic of Ireland international cost a then club record fee of £4m from Brentford.

“There was great expectation that the club would buy a striker,” Morgan told this column. “Many eyebrows were raised when a big fee was spent on a defender instead.

“And there was a lot of pressure on John because of that price tag.

“Now, as the one in the middle who has to control everything, he should get most of the plaudits.

“As much as the other centre backs (Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell) are flying forward and everyone talks about that, the man in the middle position is really key to it.

“A lot of organisation comes from what he’s doing and he’s particularly good at keeping hold of midfield players in front of him to ensure they’re covering.”

Morgan points to the effectiveness of Jake Wright and Richard Stearman in similar roles during previous seasons.

He added: “John Egan had a spell here from Sunderland when I was assistant to Danny Wilson. We could see he had a lot of promise.

“He’s developed into a real good centre half who can do well in the Premier League.”

Ditto United generally according to Morgan who insists that, unlike his class of 2007, Chris Wilder’s men will survive at top level.

“I do honestly expect them to stay up,” he declared. “That’s not heaping more pressure on them.

“It’s because Chris doesn’t want to change the principles that got them there and they will literally go after people.

“He knows they might have to be more careful in away games but home form is the key - and there they will be relentless and go for the jugular.

“That’s the real strength of this team and a lot of opponents will find that hard.

“For instance, Crystal Palace probably got caught off guard in the first home game.

“Roy Hodgson will have prepared thoroughly but it’s different when the players get out there. United go for people and yet not in a gung-ho fashion; it’s done in a controlled manner.

“They look a fit, mobile team that can keep going right to the end - and that is the trait of a good Sheffield United side.”

Wilder will have a trick up his sleeve for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. It just might include the double bluff of changing nothing, though he told me: “We’ve got to be flexible with our approach in every game. I expect us to be competitive wherever we go.”