Match Analysis: Second-placed Sheffield United showcase their growing maturity as David McGoldrick and Oliver Norwood make fools of Premier League scouts

David McGoldrick scored the winning goal against Queens Park Rangers: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
David McGoldrick scored the winning goal against Queens Park Rangers: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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George Baldock looked confused. Not with the scoreline or Sheffield United's position in the table. Even Steve McClaren, despite accusing Queens Park Rangers of contributing to their own downfall, insisted they possess both the wit and the wherewithal to secure Premier League football.

Instead what troubled the defender, as a he dissected the win which lifted Chris Wilder's squad to second, was explaining why David McGoldrick has never graced it before.

"David is a joy to work with," Baldock said, after watching the centre-forward claim his 10th goal of the season and fifth in six games. "His technique is phenomenal and, if I'm being honest, I can't believe he's not worked in the top-flight. If you're on his side in training, you generally end-up coming through. So I find it strange, really strange to think, that he's still waiting for a chance."

Having taken maximum points from their previous four outings, McGoldrick's chance could come at the beginning of next season if United continue in the same vein. Although neither Baldock nor Wilder could be persuaded to admit it, climbing back into the automatic promotion places will only fuel belief in the dressing room that,  20 months after being promoted to the Championship, this could be their year.

McGoldrick, who pounced during the closing stages of an intriguing first-half, was once again instrumental as he glided elegantly across the pitch and brought others effortlessly into play. But just as unfathomable as the fact he found himself without a club last summer after being released by Ipswich Town is the knowledge the person who delivered the cross McGoldrick glanced home at the near post, Oliver Norwood, is also yet to be granted an opportunity at the highest level. The Northern Ireland international, deemed surplus to requirements by Brighton and Hove Albion, was at the heart of all United's best moves.

"There's a lot of teams with bigger resources but I think we're proving that means nothing," Baldock said. "There's definitely a confidence, an inner confidence. It's not an arrogance, just confidence, because we have respect for everyone. As soon as that confidence steps into arrogance, the gaffer would come down on us like a ton of bricks so there's no chance of it happening."

Oliver Norwood also impressed as Sheffield United climbed to second: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Oliver Norwood also impressed as Sheffield United climbed to second: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Although this was not United's most emphatic victory of the campaign, it was arguably the most encouraging and significant. Rangers, who had travelled north unbeaten in six, were well organised, ambitious and despite frustrating McClaren with their carelessness in the final third, posed a threat going forward as they counter-attacked with pace. Wilder, who used to bemoan his team's inability to see out tight contests, nodded in appreciation as, display tactical maturity and excellent match-craft, United wrestled themselves in front and kept Rangers at arms-length.

"I just think we've got a no fear mentality here that's been put in by the management," Baldock said. "When you come here, it's instilled really, really quickly that you have to work hard if you want to play on a Saturday. It's an environment where, I don't believe, the fearful would be able to prosper."

"That was a massive win and maybe one of those games where we weren't quite able to get a victory last year," her continued. "But I thought we were comfortable and limited a really good team to few chances. All the boys are better for our experiences last year and we've learnt. I thought we defended really well as a team."

Having missed an early opening, screwing wide after Billy Sharp had swept Baldock's pass back across the penalty box, McGoldrick beat Joe Lumley from close range when Norwood's perfectly flighted centre allowed him to ghost in front of his marker. The finish was efficient and the assist, after Norwood had tested Lumley with the outside of his foot, seemingly effortless. It meant Gary Madine, signed on loan from Cardiff City earlier in the week, was not required to be summoned from the bench although, as Baldock acknowledged, his presence provides United with another strategic option.

George Baldock says Sheffield United are confident but not cocky: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

George Baldock says Sheffield United are confident but not cocky: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"You can see Gary's quality straight away. He's fitted in well, all the boys have taken to him, and he's a great lad. He's very, very good in the air and we're excited to have him on board. With Billy, you've got one of the best finishers of his generation, Leon (Clarke) is a top striker and this level, Conor (Washington) is a real pest and now there's Gary too."

Although Luke Freeman saw a long-range drive fly just wide during the closing stages, Dean Henderson enjoyed a relatively trouble-free afternoon as United moved nine points clear of Bristol City in seventh.

"We just do our talking on the pitch," Baldock said. "We're not going to talk about getting promoted with 19 games to go. Teams have been in this position before and not done it. We just take it game by game. I know it's a boring answer but that's the way it has to be."

Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock, Stevens, Basham, Egan, O'Connell, Fleck, Norwood, Duffy (Dowell 68), Sharp (Clarke 84), McGoldrick. Not used: Moore, Madine, Coutts, Stearman, Johnson.
Queens Park Rangers: Lumley, Furlong, Bidwell, Freeman, Cousins (Smith 73), Eze, Scowen (Chair 84), Wszolek (Osayi-Samuel 62), Wells, Lynch, Leistner. Not used: Ingram, Hall, Manning, Oteh.
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).
Attendance: 25,501