Sheffield Derby: Why the key to success for Sheffield United has been forged away from Bramall Lane and Shirecliffe

A series of informal meetings, away from Bramall Lane, have helped shape Sheffield United's approach to tonight's derby.

Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 9:05 pm
Updated Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 9:07 pm
Enda Stevens

The finer points of their battleplan for tonight's visit to Hillsborough have been tweaked inside the Steelphalt Academy's video suite; a nondescript room at Sheffield United's training complex where their analysts and coaching staff hold court.

But its fundamentals, the emphasis on attitude and togetherness which underpins Chris Wilder's tactics, were cemented over cups of freshly brewed coffee, the occasional pot of tea and, if the diet sheet allows, omelettes and croissants.

"We spend a lot of time together away from football and I think that's healthy," says Enda Stevens.

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"All of the lads are mates. Quite often we go out and have breakfast together before training. It's good. All good, in fact."

Sitting in the home dugout at Bramall Lane, Stevens cuts a relaxed and contented figure.

Less than an hour earlier, the Republic of Ireland wing-back and sometime centre-half had scribbled his signature across the bottom of a contract tying him to the club for the next three-and-a-half seasons after emerging as a key member of United's squad.

On the pitch, things have gone better than either he or Wilder hoped for as it enters the derby in the thick of a promotion race.

Off it, Stevens admits, life is just as good. Indeed, explaining how he has bought into a city as well as a football club, the 28-year-old believes there is a direct correlation between the two.

"I've moved up here with the missus," Stevens continues.

"We're settled here and we really enjoy it which, to my mind, is really important.

If you're not settled away from the game, if there's things going on, then it's not as easy to focus on what you should be doing.

But we love it here."

Wilder, a curious combination of old school values and new school thinking, has deliberately blurred the lines between his players' sporting and social lives since taking charge three years ago.

Encouraging victories to be celebrated, so long as they are in each other's company, it is a ploy which has delivered a League One title and then a top six challenge last term.

Stevens, who arrived on a free transfer from Portsmouth as United celebrated their climb out of the third tier, believes the strategy has been even more of a driving force behind recent results than the manager's pioneering system.

And, as they prepare to face a rejuvenated Sheffield Wednesday, a crucial weapon in United's derby arsenal.

"It's all about the dressing room here. Seriously, it's the best one I've been in and, for me, that's what makes a difference.

"Yes, we've been doing well and the formation, the way we go about it, has obviously been a talking point because there aren't too many teams who get the numbers forward we do.

"But the thing is, you just want to go out there and do well for the rest of the lads.

“Every player wants to do well for those around him rather than just himself. You don't get that at other clubs."

Like the majority of United's squad, Stevens, aged 28, started his career in the semi-professional and non-league ranks before eventually turning full-time.

After graduating from Cherry Orchard's youth programme in his native Dublin, he represented UCD, St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers before being lured to England by Aston Villa and then, following a series of loan moves, sold to Fratton Park.

"We’re not a team of superstars," Stevens says.

"But I think that's important because it means we're all about the group.

“If one of us plays good, then the rest of us play good.

“Obviously I want to play well, because that's how I impress the manager and stay in the side.

“But when I go out there, seriously, my first thought is to help the guys around me impress.

“That's why we are where we are. Because of all of us. Not a couple of individuals."