Sheffield United 3 Sunderland 0: Blades ‘get old swagger back’ as Mark Duffy shines against sorry Black Cats

Richard Stearman scores his first United goal. Pics: Sportimage
Richard Stearman scores his first United goal. Pics: Sportimage
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Given Sunderland’s woeful showing, this might not be the finest result Sheffield United have recorded during Chris Wilder’s reign.

But given the circumstances, and the performances which inspired it, their victory over one of the most limited teams to visit Bramall Lane in a long while could prove invaluable in a psychological sense.

John Lundstram of Sheffield Utd  celebrates his goal : Simon Bellis/Sportimage

John Lundstram of Sheffield Utd celebrates his goal : Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Goals from Richard Stearman and George Baldock, after the excellent John Lundstram had given them the lead, secured United’s first win in seven outings and proved, as Wilder has steadfastly maintained, they can succeed without the likes of John Fleck, David Brooks and Paul Coutts.

“We’ve had a big hole in our team but I think we’ve got a bit of our old swagger back,” he said.

“We’ve been under a bit of pressure recently and we’ve slipped our standards slightly. People have been hurting but that tells you what those boys are about.”

Despite finding themselves at a financial disadvantage to most, if not all, of the Championship’s leading teams, United have still assembled a collection of supremely talented footballers.

George Baldock of Sheffield Utd scored the third

George Baldock of Sheffield Utd scored the third

One of those, Mark Duffy, was at the heart of their most impressive moves and provided the pass which allowed Lundstram to fire the hosts into a deserved 36th minute lead.

The finish - a low shot threaded between Robbin Ruiter’s outstretched palm and the far post - provided an insight into the quality which has convinced Wilder the midfielder is a more than able deputy for the injured Coutts.

But Duffy’s work was also laced with intelligence and quality.

“I know what the boys are about,” Wilder continued, casting his mind back to last weekend’s draw with Aston Villa.

“They showed it there, coming back from 2-0 down to get a point. They picked themselves up off the canvas and that’s telling. That’s tells you how much they want it and are prepared to put in.”

Duffy was also responsible for delivering the free-kick which enabled Stearman to head home his first United goal before Baldock ended Sunderland’s interest in the game.

Chris Coleman, standing arms-folded on the touchline, has made some improvements since accepting one of the toughest assignments in the competition nearly six weeks ago.

But, if he was still in any doubt, the ease with which his charges surrendered possession and sheer number of simple passes that went astray reminded the Welshman that back-to-back relegations remains a very real possibility on Wearside.

“That was bitterly disappointing,” Coleman said.

“I think we swallowed it. They were stronger, quicker, hungrier and fitter. That, quite simply, was not good enough.”

While Coleman was left to sift through the wreckage of another demoralising defeat, Wilder could reflect upon a display which confirmed why United have an altogether different end to the season in mind.

Although the opposition’s dearth of quality must be taken into account, the hosts were classy, creative and, on the rare occasions Sunderland threatened, combative when required.

“I apologise for swearing in the 93rd minute to anyone who was sat behind me,” Wilder said.

“I just wanted to make sure the lads got a justified scoreline. Sunderland are in decent nick and went to (leaders) Wolves a while back and got a result.”

The division’s leading scorer, Clarke has emerged as United’s ‘go to’ man during the first-half of the campaign.

So it was inevitable the centre-forward was the intended target of Duffy’s clever set-piece during the early skirmishes.

Although Sunderland cleared their lines, it set the tone for a positive start from the hosts, with Clayton Donaldson, again preferred to Billy Sharp in attack, also going close.

Although Sunderland have improved since Coleman’s appointment, there was a sign the brittle confidence which saw them go 14 matches without a win before his arrival has not been completely repaired when Bryan Oviedo mis-controlled a simple pass on the halfway line.

It was something United, who had clearly reached the same conclusion, continued to try and exploit as they spent almost the entirety of the fixture pressing Sunderland. back.

Duffy’s movement and spatial awareness was a feature of opening period. Indeed, it was his vision which saw Donaldson got close soon after although the offside flag was raised.

As Sunderland struggled to subdue him, Duffy’s persistence finally paid dividends when, after releasing Donaldson again, he found Lundstram who duly beat Ruiter with an angled drive.

The feint which left James Vaughan trailing when yet another Sunderland attack broke down at the beginning of the second-half suggested a player at the very top of his game.

When Stearman directed another Duffy centre beyond Ruiter, the contest was all but dead.

It fell to Baldock, who turned home Jack O’Connell’s cross, to put Sunderland out of their misery.

“All you can do is beat what’s put in front of you,” Wilder said.

“We didn’t allow them to show anything.

There were a lot of good players out there for them but we did what we had to do to get the right result.”