Sheffield United: The Premier League's best defence is getting even better

Amid all the hype, hullabaloo and hysteria which followed Sheffield United's sacking of Burnley, a few impressive statistics nearly got lost among the noise.

Monday, 4th November 2019, 4:07 pm
Updated Monday, 4th November 2019, 6:24 pm
John Egan of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Not only did the result lift the club to its highest league position since the Seventies - ranked sixth, Chris Wilder's side are three points clear of their next opponents Tottenham Hotspur - but the clean sheet they secured means it now officially boasts the most effective defence in the competition. At the other end of the pitch, where John Lundstram netted twice before John Fleck's effort sealed a thoroughly deserved win, United doubled their goals haul at Bramall Lane for the season; making a mockery of claims they lack the firepower to compete against the country's elite level teams.

Having stressed the importance of "balance" at the beginning of the campaign, Wilder could be forgiven for feeling pretty satisfied with their latest body of work when he shared a beer with Sean Dyche afterwards.

Despite resisting the temptation to mention these facts and figures before turning his attention to preparing for Saturday's visit to London, Wilder did provide an insight into the mentality which is fuelling United's climb up the table. Revealingly, and very deliberately, he chose to highlight the performances of those he feared would be ignored by the headline writers following last weekend's win.

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"We don't look upon this as being an individual sport," Wilder said, ignoring a question about Lundstram and his fellow goalscorer Fleck. "I thought Mousset was fabulous out there. Even though he didn't score, the amount of times he got across the near post and the runs he made, well, that is what cleared the space."

Mousset, who became only the ninth player to register three assists in the first-half of a PL fixture after being recalled to the starting eleven, was not the only unsung hero identified by Wilder during an instructive post-match analysis. Billy Sharp, who replaced the Frenchman after the interval, also received a mention in dispatches, together with John Egan, Jack O'Connell and their colleagues at the back.

"Bill came on and gave us real energy when we needed it," continued Wilder, before also referencing David McGoldrick. "He brought real drive to a period of the game when sometimes, with what had happened, you worry there might be a little bit of a drop off. But he kept pushing us forward and getting us up the pitch. The same as all the rest of the lads, even those whose job it is to keep the ball out. That, for me, set the tone and made sure we stayed in control because, at this level, you can't afford to give anyone a sniff."

Lundstram, however, remains the poster boy for the esprit de corps and self-effacing attitude which characterises United's squad. Claiming their first top-flight brace in a quarter-of-a-century, the midfielder has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in recent months after making only 10 appearances in the Championship last term.

"We spoke in the summer about the need for everyone, ourselves as staff included, to really up their game," Wilder, who signed Lundstram from Oxford two years ago, said. "We had to have that mindset because we were stepping into a whole new level, where the standard, and I don't mean this disrespectfully because the division we'd come out of is so, so difficult, was about to go through the roof.

"You've got the be ready to take your opportunities, put yourself in a position to do that, when they come along."

Seizing chances is something United did to good effect against Burnley and is something they must to again to enhance their prospects of beating a Spurs squad which, despite its indifferent form, is still brimming with world class talent. With Harry Kane expected to return following illness, Wilder will also be encouraged by evidence United's rearguard is becoming even more miserly as the season unfolds. Having allowed opponents an average of 3.5 and 4.6 shots on target during the first two months of the campaign, October saw that figure reduce to 3.0. Burnley, much to Dyche's disappointment and Wilder's delight, enjoyed exactly none.

"That outlook the boys have got, where everyone mucks in, has been built through good players and staff who realise it's all about the group," Wilder said. "You've got to do a lot of things right to win at any level, no matter what the standard. And if everyone is prepared to help each other out, then you give yourself more chance of doing that."