James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Forget petitions, this should be your response to poor punditry

Sheffield United are making a pretty decent fist of smashing Premier League opponents into submission. Of bludgeoning down defences using a combination of long balls, sustained aerial bombardments and sheer unadulterated brute force.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 14:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th September 2019, 14:52 pm
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

Well actually, they aren't. Chris Wilder's team might have entered the international break 10th in the table - comfortably the highest of the three newly promoted clubs - but their encouraging start has come on the back of some quite sophisticated football. Underpinned, exactly as it should be, by a strong work ethic.

Of course, as a recent flurry of social media furores might suggest, that is not the picture being painted in some quarters as many supposed experts try and unpick the story behind United's encouraging start to the campaign.

First Danny Mills, a man seemingly so stuck in the Nineties he probably spends his spare time listening to NSYNC wearing a tie dye t-shirt, accused them of being pretty "direct" at times. I say 'accused' because, in this era of gegenpressing, vertical build-up passing and other highfalutin nonsense, doing the right thing by taking the quickest route to goal is akin to labelling Hanson the next New Kids on the Block. And as Danny will tell you, MMMBop was no Step by Step. Not by a long chalk.

Sheffield United are 10th in the Premier League table: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

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Then, earlier this month, Garth Crooks caused uproar by calling United's style "quite basic" for the top-flight. His comments provoked the now obligatory s**t storm on Twitter and other internet channels. Some folk have even organised a petition, demanding the former West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur forward is relieved of his duties by the BBC.

Personally, I wouldn't bother. Getting het-up by stuff like this is a waste of time and energy. A much more constructive response, yours truly humble suggests, is to simply smile, shrug one's shoulders and then get on with life. Because to do anything else is simply giving oxygen to uninformed opinions.

Ever since waving goodbye to the Championship, United's strategy has been over-played. The enterprising wing-backs and over-lapping centre-halves, a hallmark of their performances in the second and third tiers, have not been as evident during the opening four games of the campaign. They appear on occasion. But predictably, given the firepower, precision and intelligence of attackers at the highest level, Wilder's charges do not swarm upfield with quite the same wanton abandon. Nor, however, are they route one merchants; aimlessly lumping balls into the channels and playing the percentages. They have just found a balance. Tweaked their approach to try and deliver, given the situation they find themselves in, positive results.

Crooks comments, albeit inadvertently, highlight one of the problems with the modern game: A belief that, unless something is mind-numbingly complicated, it is worth absolutely nothing.

Sheffield United have made an encouraging start to life back in the Premier League: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Brian Clough, surely the UK's greatest ever manager, would have had a thing to say about that. Under him, defenders defended, midfielders created chances and strikers scored goals. Times have changed. The veracity of Clough's message, which delivered two European Cups, has not.

"He made everything crystal clear to ordinary working men, which is what footballers are," John McGovern, the former Nottingham Forest star, once said. "If you make things clear to them and make them work hard, you will find you have an amazing product."

So rather than get excited by often deliberately provocative punditry, just be content that United are doing the business on the pitch. And even if things do go south, it won't be because of obtuse narratives. Because who cares about those?

But much of the commentary surrounding them is stuck in the Nineties, like New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys