Sheffield United: How David McGoldrick proved he is a leader as well as a mighty fine centre-forward
With his softly spoken-voice and unassuming demeanor, David McGoldrick is not your archetypal footballing leader.
But the Republic of Ireland international has stepped into the breach created by Billy Sharp's absence to play a captain's role behind the scenes, according to Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.
Acknowledging McGoldrick leads by example rather than bombastic speeches, Wilder highlighted the 31-year-old's performance during his team's win over Nottingham Forest, which saw them regain second place in the table ahead of tomorrow's visit to Hull City, as a case in point.
"That was David being positive and that's what I've told the players," Wilder said, referring to McGoldrick's part in Yohan Benalouane's sending-off which helped swing the match in United's favour. "We have been all season so why change now?
"David was positive. He's been amazing for us. He's experienced at international level and he's been a calming influence in the group.
"There's not an unbelievable amount of Championship football experience, let alone top end, in there. So he's stepped in. He's stepped in with the skipper being out and played a huge part with the players. He's been outstanding."
McGoldrick's sense of purpose and calming influence could prove invaluable as United, who are above Leeds in third on goal difference, attempt to negotiate safe passage through their remaining three games. With the end of the season now in sight, both they and Marcelo Bielsa's squad know even the slightest false step could prove costly in the race for automatic promotion.
Beating Forest 2-0 - McGoldrick also created United's second effort, scored by Enda Stevens, after Mark Duffy had broken the deadlock - proved the perfect antidote to a disappointing draw against Millwall a week earlier. The pressure associated with a push for the Premier League appeared to weigh heavily upon the shoulders of Wilder's players at times during that match, which also saw John Egan dismissed and Billy Sharp and Chris Basham suffer hamstring injuries. Egan, who was replaced in the starting eleven which faced Forest by Richard Stearman, is eligible for selection in East Yorkshire.
"He (McGoldrick) is such a good lad," Wilder, who also praised Martin Cranie's contribution against Forest, continued. "He cares and you've seen him, when he gave the ball away
"That's his character, that's his attitude. Stears has been immense. Cranes, nothing affects him. David has stepped up. Sometimes a fresh voice, coming out, that can do the job. And David has done that for us this week."
With United and Leeds both six points clear of West Bromwich Albion in fourth, both teams, together with leaders Norwich City, have staked strong claims for a place in the Premier League. After proving their mettle across the course of the past eight months, psychology rather than skill could now decide who goes straight up and who is forced to try and plot a course through the play-offs. Perhaps the greatest indication of the mental challenges the trio face is the sight of City, seemingly blazing a trail towards the title, drawing their last three outings.
Wilder, describing how United picked themselves up after conceding a last minute equaliser to Millwall, believes his players can draw upon their experience of gaining promotion from League One two years ago along the finishing straight.
"We talk characters, we have to dig in and to get big prizes, to achieve big things in football, you have to go through a bit of pain at times," he said. "(Mark) Duffy was with us in League One, Flecky (John Fleck) was too. Stears (Richard Stearman) was with us last season. The team is littered with people who have been through with us."
"It's not up to me to lift their spirits," Wilder added. "I told them the other day, I'm not a comedian. It's not up to me to do it. But they've come roaring back this week. There's been a quiet steel and a little bit of 'up yours this week.' That was there in the dressing room."