SHEFFIELD UNITED: A knockout season!

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BEING a keen student of the fight game, Michael Doyle knows the importance of getting your blows in first.

A quirk of the fixture calendar means Sheffield United have been forced to rely upon their counter-punching ability of late. But, as victories over Chesterfield, Hartlepool, Bournemouth and Rochdale demonstrate, Danny Wilson’s side possess the weaponry required to survive the slugfest that is this season’s scrap for automatic promotion from League One.

“I made a point of saying to myself at the start of the season that, come what may, I was going to enjoy myself,” Doyle, a veteran of Leeds’ charge into the Championship two years ago, said.

“When I was at Elland Road it was mentally draining because everyone looked at what the other results were and who the other teams were playing.

“I’m not being critical but we all, myself included, got too wrapped up in that.

“Here, I can honestly say it’s not been mentally draining at all. “I’ve learned from what happened in the past and the attitude, right from the top down, has been to only focus on ourselves.

“That’s why it’s not been difficult. Only enjoyable.

“We all just love coming into work every day.” “Would I be saying the same thing if we weren’t in the position we are?” Doyle added.

“Very probably.”

Doyle’s understated approach might not win many plaudits from supporters but a series of combative displays have earned him the respect of his fellow professionals.

Just as Richard Cresswell’s willingness to do Ched Evans’ donkey work has enabled the Wales international to score 34 goals since returning from injury in September, the 30-year-old’s industry has provided Kevin McDonald with the platform to spread a veneer of invention across United’s midfield.

Their partnership has been every bit as important in ensuring Wilson’s charges entertain Leyton Orient tomorrow second in the table with four matches left to play.

“I don’t mind getting pigeon-holed and it doesn’t really bother me if people think I’m this type of player or that,” Doyle told The Star.

“The most important thing for me is that the team is winning.

“I think there’s more to my game than just hassling and challenging. But everyone is entitled to an opinion and that’s fine by me.

“All I’ve ever done, right from the start of my career, is just concentrate on working hard and giving everything I’ve got for my team.”

Growing up in Ireland, Doyle dabbled with boxing before choosing the much safer option of football instead.

But his interest in the noble art remains undiminished.

Indeed, some of those who have found themselves on the sharp end of a typically tenacious Doyle tackle would argue the skills he honed as a schoolboy in the gyms of Dublin continue to be applied outside of the ring.

“I boxed a little bit as a youngster but I was also playing Gaelic football and soccer so it all got too much,” Doyle said. “A lot of my family were involved in boxing too and so that’s how I got the bug.

“I still love it now and it’s good to have an interest away from football which allows me to switch off and relax.

“Mike Tyson was the big name when I was growing-up

“Now, I really like Floyd Mayweather. Before that it was Oscar De La Hoya and Marco Antonio Barrera. They’re two absolute legends.”

Doyle, signed by Wilson’s predecessor, Micky Adams, from Coventry City 15 months ago, assumed the captaincy when Nick Montgomery lost his place in United’s starting 11 earlier this term.

Montgomery, whose recent loan spell at Millwall was curtailed by injury, was among several squad members - including James Beattie and Johannes Ertl - who watched their colleagues triumph 5-2 at Spotland in midweek to climb back above neighbours Sheffield Wednesday despite failing to make the team sheet.

Doyle, who confirmed the visitors’ superiority with a sumptuous second-half strike, said: “We’re all helping each other out and that’s one of the reasons why this is such a great place to be.

“Last season, when we were relegated, I’m not going to deny that wasn’t the case.

“What happens in football, when results aren’t great, is that you start resenting each other. Not in a personal way but the cracks can start to show.

“The same in any workplace.

“Nothing could be further from the case now though and it’s not just down to the fact we’ve been doing well.

“It’s the atmosphere that’s been created around the whole club by the manager and his staff right from the word go.

“There’s a real sense of togetherness and purpose too.

“But, above all else, it’s enjoyable and I think that’s been reflected in performances and results.”

Doyle will not be taking one for granted against Orient despite Russell Slade’s side travelling north just above the relegation zone.

Rochdale remained bottom after losing to United but Doyle said: “I was actually really impressed by them.

“They played some good football and they kept on busting a gut right until the final whistle even though they weren’t going to win by that stage.

“If they go down then I think they’ll be a strong side in League Two next season. This league is really difficult to predict.”