Sheffield United Match Analysis: Gary Madine speaks from the heart after a performance which suggests he has finally found his footballing home
Six weeks ago, when Sheffield United first announced their intention to sign Gary Madine, a carefully orchestrated PR offensive cranked quickly into gear.
Pleas for forgiveness were issued. Chris Wilder, acknowledging his presence would prove contentious, warned public displays of discontent might derail the club's bid for Premier League football.
But behind the scenes, as others employed all sorts of tactics to try and sway terrace opinion, the former Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward had devised a different kind of strategy. One unlikely to make an immediate impact but, he suspected, was considerably better suited to winning the battle for hearts and minds at Bramall Lane.
"It's been a good day," Madine admitted, following his brace against Reading. "I always knew I could turn the supporters around with the way I play. I give 100 per cent.
"I'm not someone who is going to get people out of their seats by taking three or four others on. But I'm a football fan myself and if I see someone working their socks off for the paying customer, then you always appreciate that. If you can top that off with a couple of goals all the better because then everyone is happy."
The standing ovation Madine received when he was substituted towards the end of a cruelly one-sided contest confirmed his hunch was correct. Two emphatic first-half finishes, bookended by efforts from Kieron Freeman and John Fleck, undoubtedly helped sway some of the remaining naysayers.
But the process of redemption, following a series of well-publicised off-the-pitch issues, had already been completed long before he effectively sealed the result which lifted United to second in the Championship. Physically imposing but also technically adept, it was the sight of the 28-year-old busting his lungs to hunt down an opponent which made the the most persuasive argument.
"The reception I got coming off was brilliant," Madine said. "To be honest, I was surprised when I first came in, because it was wasn't as bad as I thought it might be and I really want to thank the fans for that.
"I've sort of made a living out of proving people wrong and I know, when I first turned-up, there were a few saying I'd rock the dressing room. I know I'm not that kind of person, though."
"I've had my troubles away from football," he continued. "But as far as Monday to Saturday goes, I work as hard as anyone, I'm as pleasant as anyone and I get on with everyone. I think that's why the gaffer brought me in, he did his research and found out what I'm like around a club. That was good for me and I'm glad the fans appreciated what I've been trying to put in."
Although the margin of victory confirmed this was no one man demolition job - Fleck dominated the midfield, Marvin Johnson impressed in a much-changed starting eleven and Enda Stevens, again deployed at centre-half in Jack O'Connell's absence, delivered what Wilder described as a "Rolls Royce performance" - it was difficult to escape the conclusion that, after an itinerant career - Madine has finally found a home. The manager's philosophy, full-throttle football combined with a selfless attitude, appears perfectly suited to the on-loan striker's approach. Indeed it was
telling, after scoring his first goals in over 12 months, that Madine appeared intent on highlighting the contributions of others; including debutant Scott Hogan and his supposed bête noire, United captain Billy Sharp.
"I spoke to Mark Duffy at half-time," Madine said. "And told him 'I feel like I've not touched the ball but I've got two
goals.' He replied 'Don't worry about touching the ball, we'll do that for you. You just stay in the box.' That was music to my ears."
"I needed to get a goal," he added. "You do start looking. There was some brilliant work by Flecky and I hope Scott's runs don't go unnoticed because they take defenders away and create space. We've got a blend of everything really. Billy is the master poacher, Scott is the legs in behind and Diddsy (David McGoldrick) is the flair player. Then, if one of us gets injured, there's Conor (Washington) and his pace."
Although Wilder's decision to leave his leading scorers Sharp and McGoldrick on the bench raised eyebrows before kick-off, it took United less than 40 seconds to break Reading's resistance. Freeman, making his first appearance since January, slid home from close range following Duffy's assist before Madine, profiting from Fleck's persistence, found the back of the net. His second and United's third arrived from Johnson's assist. The fourth was fortuitous - Fleck's shot deflecting in off Matt Miazga's heel - but, given United's dominance, deserved.
"I've been promoted three times now and hopefully number four is on its way," Madine said. "We have a great blend of players, a bit of flair, a bit of hard work, tough defenders and a great goalkeeper. Long may this run continue."
Sheffield United: Henderson, Cranie, Egan, Stevens, Freeman (Stearman 78), Johnson, Norwood (Coutts 72), Fleck, Duffy, Madine (Dowell 84), Hogan. Not used: S Moore, Lundstram, Sharp, McGoldrick.Reading: Martinez, Yiadom, L Moore, Baker, Barrow, Ejarla (Bodvarsson 46), Miazga, Meite, Oliveira (McCleary 75), Richards, Kelly (Swift 19). Not used: Gunter, O'Shea, Harriott,Walker.Referee: Robert JonesAttendance: 26,513