Sheffield United and Manchester City midfielder on the DNA of a winning team

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“We won’t let it define us or our season,” Tommy Doyle says, reflecting upon the recent downturn in results which means Sheffield United’s grip on an automatic promotion place suddenly looks a whole lot weaker than it did last week. Footballing careers, the midfielder stresses, are littered with challenging moments. But those players who reach the top, he reminds, refuse to let set-backs shape their destinies.

After previously going 13 matches unbeaten, with all but three of those outings ending in wins, Paul Heckingbottom’s team enters tomorrow afternoon’s game against Watford smarting from two straight defeats. Those losses, the Millwall and Middlesbrough, have seen their lead over Michael Carrick’s third place squad cut from 10 to four points. Doyle acknowledges that is bound to make some supporters “anxious”. But within the dressing room, he tells The Star, the mood remains calm and focused. Even among the section of Paul Heckingbottom’s squad which hasn’t experienced a drive for the Premier League before.

“It’s good to have that knowledge around you,” Doyle says. “But people like myself, Macca (James McAtee) and Iliman (Ndiaye), we are fearless too because we just enjoy playing football and don’t get fazed by the occasion. Genuinely, as footballers you know you can’t win every single game. Middlesbrough and others are playing really well at the moment and we’ve had a little blip. But, seriously, as footballers you get to understand these things happen. Which is why we’ve reacted the way we have.”

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Doyle’s conversation with journalists, as he looks ahead to the meeting with Slaven Bilic’s side, is peppered with the word ‘we’. He is talking about United, despite only being on loan from Manchester City, and the manner in which he refers to Paul Heckingbottom’s squad provides an insight into how entrenched Doyle has become into life at Bramall Lane. And like McAtee, his team mate at United and the Etihad Stadium, Doyle already understands what it takes to succeed in professional sport because he has grown up surrounded by serial trophy winners.

“I might not have played 500 games but I’ve had my fair share of invaluable experiences,” he says, referencing his appearances for City in the Premier League, both domestic cups and also a Champions League outing at Olympiakos. “Those do help. At City, there’s always pressure and even if we lost an FA Youth Cup final, it drove you on because it hurts to lose and you know you’re expected to put it right which we usually did.

Tommy Doyle (right) with his Sheffield United team mates Sander Berge, Oli McBurnie and Iliman Ndiaye: Simon Bellis/SportimageTommy Doyle (right) with his Sheffield United team mates Sander Berge, Oli McBurnie and Iliman Ndiaye: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Tommy Doyle (right) with his Sheffield United team mates Sander Berge, Oli McBurnie and Iliman Ndiaye: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“I feel like part of the furniture here now,” he adds, talking about United. “I’m a Sheffield United player and I’ve felt so much support from the lads and the fans. It’s nice, definitely. My dad always tells me that if you give 110 percent, people get behind you. I always give everything for Sheffield United.”

Watford arrive seventh in the table but are recognised as one of the Championship’s toughest propositions, with the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro at Bilic’s disposal.

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“Even at Millwall, although we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, we came in at half-time level,” Doyle reminds. “We’d not been at our best but were drawing before coming right back into it and getting into a position where we should have taken something. That proves we’re people who fight.”