Sheffield United: Why Blades squad’s ‘big-game experience’ could work in their favour as race for Premier League with Leeds United enters final straight

Half-a-dozen games stand between them and the Premier League, and the immortality that will bring at Bramall Lane forever more.

Monday, 8th April 2019, 7:21 am
Updated Monday, 8th April 2019, 2:54 pm

So, it goes almost without saying that Sheffield United’s players, manager and staff will face inevitable tests of their character, as well as their ability, between now and the end of the Championship season as they look to seal automatic promotion to the top flight of English football.

That in itself, though, should not fill too many Blades supporters – even the most pessimistic, scarred too many times by so many failures of the past.

Since Chris Wilder walked through the door and dragged this club – his club – off the floor, he and his players have showed time and time again that they have the attitude to match their ability.

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Wilder, in his own imitable fashion, would probably use a different word not suitable for a family newspaper, but that ‘character’ is one of the prerequisites he looks for when he scouts players; even before, in some cases, the player’s actual ability is assessed.

Their current predicament – second in the Championship table with six games to play – is no accident, then. But clashes with Birmingham City, Millwall, Nottingham Forest, Hull City, Ipswich Town and Stoke City must be negotiated before any champagne can be uncorked and although he isn't particularly fond of the saying, Wilder has braced himself and his charges for more twists and turns to come between now and May 5.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this season for United is that they have built and maintained a promotion push, into the world’s richest and most popular league, still operating largely under the radar.

Chris Wilder

Pundits have remarked about their need for a goalscorer, forgetting about their 24-goal striker and skipper, and most weeks more comments crop up somewhere about United being physical or direct or, my personal favourite, ‘regimented’ (uttered before a game which saw a centre-half pop up at the back post to score from open play).

Yes, United have proved a lot of people wrong but this is no squad of plucky underdogs punching hugely above their weight.

A look at United’s squad shows that winning is no alien feeling to this group of players – all have experience of ‘big games’, be that promotion campaigns, play-off finals or international games –and even though the youngest of the lot, Dean Henderson, is no shrinking violet, a double experience of Wembley finals last season whilst on loan at Shrewsbury can do no harm.

“There is a lot of experience in the group,” said match-winner David McGoldrick at Preston on Saturday.

“We have level-headed boys who have been around the block. A really tight-knit group with a lot of characters.

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“The young lads are level-headed, too. They know what needs to be done. We learned a lot from Aston Villa and how we chucked it away then. Bristol City, we took the lead and needed to grind it out. We didn’t, which was disappointing, but we knew there was still a lot of football still to play.

“And there still is.”