Kevin McDonald has confessed to developing a new-found respect for centre-forwards after being handed a new role by David Weir, writes James Shield.
The Sheffield United midfielder has been deployed as a traditional ‘number 10’ rather than deep lying schemer following his compatriot’s appointment at Bramall Lane.
And although McDonald admitted it is impossible to predict exactly how the race for a top two finish in “probably England’s toughest division” will unfold, he guaranteed Chris Porter and Lyle Taylor will definitely reap the benefits of Weir’s tactical adjustment.
“I’m definitely going to go a lot easier on the strikers now,” he told the Green ‘Un. “Because I’m playing a lot further up the pitch, I know what they’re going through.
“They’ve got to put up with big centre-halves smashing them about and trying to go through the back of them.
“It’s not quite the same for me but I’ve had a little taste of that already because you come into contact with defenders a lot more.
“So I’m happy to tell those two now that they’re not going to get any ear- bashings from me. I’ll be a lot more sympathetic in future.”
On a more serious note, the United manager’s positional switch promises to make better use of McDonald’s talents.
Danny Wilson, Weir’s predecessor, frequently insisted the former Scotland under-21 international possessed a “thunderbolt shot” in both boots. But, operating just in front of United’s defence, McDonald seldom enjoyed the opportunity to showcase his talents.
“I’m still getting used to the system,” McDonald continued. “So I’ll hopefully get better and better at it as the season goes along.
“One of the big differences is that before I always received the ball down the pitch whereas now, because of the position, I’m often getting it with my back to goal. It’s not always easy because things can get pretty congested in there at times but the great thing about playing there is that, if you can turn, then you’ve got so much space to run into.
“Then you can look to do some real damage with that. The manager and his staff have been really good, giving me a few little tips and pointers here and there, about how to keep on improving.
“I’m really enjoying myself and that’s something they’ve made clear they want us to do. Play with a bit of freedom, albeit with a good plan, and enjoy and express ourselves.
“When you’ve got that attitude, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve got a better chance of performing at your best.”
McDonald, however, acknowledged United must combine style with steel if they are to avoid another year of frustration and disappointment.
Back-to-back defeats in the League One play-offs have, according to the 24-year-old, equipped Weir’s squad with the nasty streak required to survive a race which, he predicted before last weekend’s victory over Notts County, will go right down to the wire.
“I’ve played in three of the four divisions,” McDonald said. “And I don’t think there can be one that’s harder to get out of than this.
“I’ve never played in League Two and I can imagine that’s similar but I can’t believe it’s tougher.
“Everyone, I don’t care what people think, is going to have to contend with a bit of a sticky patch because it’s so unpredictable.
“Look at us last year. One minute we beat Crawley and Carlisle, and the next we were losing to Hartlepool who ended up getting relegated.
“I don’t know why it’s like that. But what I do know is that every single season, every single match in fact, you learn something new about yourself and your team-mates.
“You’ve got to be able to stick together when the games start coming thick and fast and the weather gets bad in the winter. But we all get along great and I’m sure we’ll do that.”
Weir, who watched United lose their Capital One Cup tie with Burton Albion in midweek, made his third appearance as a manager at Griffin Park earlier this afternoon when the South Yorkshire club faced Brentford.
“To be honest,” McDonald said. “We’re all glad that the real stuff, if you want to call it that, has started. Pre-season was great, hard work but enjoyable. Nothing beats playing matches though and we were all pretty excited when they started.”