Sheffield United: The statistic which proves Chris Wilder’s tactics are much more sophisticated than some folk suggest
For most of the past two-and-a-half seasons, Sheffield United have been painted as a team willing to gamble everything in pursuit of victory.
It is a caricature Chris Wilder has been keen to promote himself at times, particularly when facing opponents content to soak-up pressure and maybe pinch something on the counter-attack. But as their performances at the other end of the pitch prove, United's approach is actually much more sophisticated than some commentators might suggest.
If Saturday's opponents Rotherham are to win at Bramall Lane, they must breach a defence which last conceded a league goal at home on Boxing Day. Bolton Wanderers, Middlesbrough and Reading are among those who have tried and failed to break an impressive run of five clean sheets which began following a 3-1 victory over Derby County.
"We try to control things between them," Wilder explained, when asked about the statistic today, "But ultimately games of football do come down to what happens in both boxes. The shape is important."
United, who enter their meeting with Paul Warne's side ranked third in the table, last conceded a goal in Championship competition four weeks ago when Andre Green scored an equaliser for Aston Villa towards the end of February 8th's 3-3 draw at Villa Park. If they record another shut-out against Rotherham, who are 22nd, it will be over seven hours of football since Dean Henderson was forced to pick the ball out of his own net.
With an impressive array of attacking talent at his disposal, including leading goalscorer Billy Sharp, Wilder has admitted he took a conscious decision to strengthen United's defensive options over the summer. One of those to arrive, club record signing John Egan, has been named in the latest Republic of Ireland squad alongside his team mates Enda Stevens, Scott Hogan and David McGoldrick.
"With the players going forward we've got, we feel we give ourselves a good chance of creating the big moments that can swing games," Wilder said. "So it's important to be in a position where those big chances can actually decide the outcome."