Magic Morgan Gibbs-White and big headers underline Sheffield United’s growing resurgence

Three goals, three points, over four thousand jubilant Blades basking in the East Yorkshire sunshine. Job done.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 11:29 am
Morgan Gibbs-White of Sheffield United skips past Richie Smallwood of Hull City: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

But even after Sheffield United made it seven points from nine available in the last week by comfortably beating Hull City at the MKM Stadium on Saturday, there was also a comforting feeling that they have another gear or two to switch into, if and when they need to this season.

Morgan Gibbs-White was again instrumental, having a hand in all three goals and almost scoring a memorable one of his own when he sent Richie Smallwood into the River Humber and forced Matt Ingram to make a good save with a left-footed effort.

Gibbs-White has certainly hit the ground running at Bramall Lane and it’s tempting to wonder how much United – still only 15th in the table after their poor start to the season – would have been if Slavisa Jokanović had Gibbs-White to call upon earlier in the transfer window.

Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There’s also now understandable worry amongst United fans that Gibbs-White may return to his parent club Wolves in January. Coaching staff at Bramall Lane are understood to be more relaxed about that scenario, but this is the quandary with any loan signing.

United obviously want Gibbs-White to do well, but with each man-of-the-match performance he may be moving further out of their reach if the chance to make it a permanent move ever arose. See, for another more recent example, Dean Henderson.

But speculation over his future can wait, for now – let’s enjoy him while he’s here.

‘Never seen defending like it’

It was interesting to sit in Grant McCann’s post-match press conference at Hull on Saturday afternoon and listen to him talk about Billy Sharp’s part in John Egan’s first goal a few hours earlier, the United skipper using his experience to block off Malek Wilks from a corner and allow his teammate to head home.

“The first one is disappointing,” McCann added.

“They’re experienced, Billy has hold of Malek but it’s good play from them. We need to get better at that and not let anyone block us, it was a frustrating moment for us.

“But to go and concede again from another set play was not acceptable.”

Their defending for both corners was remarkable. For Egan’s first goal, three Hull men were stationed either just inside or outside the 18 yard box, leaving the defender with a free header once he had escaped Wilks, with Sharp’s help; after that, one of those three Hull men, George Honeyman, resolved himself to get as close to Sharp as anyone will have during the last 18 months at every opportunity.

For United’s third goal he switched his attention to Gibbs-White, throwing him to the floor moments before Egan headed home, and it seemed only a matter of time before a penalty was awarded for their antics. Perhaps in the end, justice was done anyway.

“In 40 years of playing, watching & analysing pro football, I’ve never seen set-piece defending like it,” Kevin Gage, the former United defender, wrote on Twitter.

“At every one: holding, grappling, wrestling, shoving, head-locks, bear hugs… the lot!”

Another weapon in the armoury

Not scoring from set-pieces is one of the biggest myths in football – which is why every club believes their corners and free-kicks are rubbish, when in reality goals from them are just quite rare – but it has been too long since a Blades defender got a goal from a corner, so it was quite the jolt for Egan to hit the back of the net twice in a single game on Saturday.

Losing Jack O’Connell to injury also hit United offensively with one less fearsome target to hit in the box, and it is an area that Egan – who used to be good for a few goals a season during his time at Gillingham and Brentford – has been particularly keen to improve on in recent times.

Hopefully it’s the start of something of a run – both for player and more importantly, for team.