Sheffield United Column: A bit of patience could go a long way for John Lundstram and the Blades

John Lundstram
John Lundstram
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It was a seemingly-innocuous tweet but the replies - if, with the usual caveat applied, the internet is to be believed - offered a fascinating insight into the reason behind Sheffield United's defeat at Bristol City at the weekend.

"Midfielder John Lundstram identifies the one mistake Sheffield United must not make if they want to secure a Championship play-off place at the end of the season," tweeted my colleague, James Shield, as he offered his own analysis after the Blades were rocked by the Robins.

Now, a selection of the replies. 'Is it picking John Lundstram?' 'Playing him regularly!' 'Yes picking him in first place.' 'Is it "don't play Lundstram"?' 

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One fan was even less succinct, offering: "Don't play him" while on one popular fans' forum, one thread alone on Lundstram is now eight pages long and over on Facebook, that bastion of common sense and rational thought, anyone who dared to suggest that the United midfielder is anything other than awful was accused of being in a sexual relationship with him.

This isn't uniquely United's problem, of course, although it does seem to me at times that the want - nay, the need - for a 'boo-boy' at Bramall Lane does seem more prevelant than at other clubs. This is football in 2018 and while the thirst and desire for success is higher than arguably ever, the patience afforded to managers, players and sometimes owners seems as thin on the ground as I've ever known.

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So how does all this affect Lundstram? Like most in this game the answer isn't black and white, and exists in the shades of grey in between. No, he isn't John Fleck, Oliver Norwood or Paul Coutts, but he's also, in my humble opinion, far, far from the terrible footballer some have accused him of being.

What he is, is a young man at 24 years old still feeling his way in at Championship level, and in some ways at United. Of his 71 appearances in the second tier in his career, 36 came for United last season - many when he was given the unenviable task of replacing Paul Coutts - and his three goals made him the highest-scoring Blades midfielder.

It has to be said that some of the criticisms of the Liverpudlian are valid. Lundstram does have a tendency to give the ball away at times – an inevitable by-product when a player attempts to play the ball forward and make things happen – and does seem to drop his head when he does make an error.

But when you shop in the market that Chris Wilder does, and take £700,000 punts from League One, there will be trade-offs and the former Oxford captain does give United a strong, physical presence they sometimes appear to lack when, say, Fleck and Norwood pair with Mark Duffy.

Lundstram’s genuine two-footed passing ability often goes overlooked – during a conversation with United assistant Alan Knill in the summer, we mused that it's not immediately obvious which foot he prefers – and there is both time and appetite to improve.

Lundstram’s biggest crime so far in a United shirt has been to not be Coutts at first, and Fleck on Saturday. A lot has been made about his win ratio in a United shirt – which team wouldn’t suffer adversely without Coutts or Fleck, or both? – but there are very few players in this division who could step into either of that duo’s shoes seamlessly. 

As is so often the case with a young player, patience is needed. He may get it, he may not; he may come good in a United shirt, or he may not. The prospect isn’t beyond possibility, though, and one thing is certain in my mind… far less talented players certainly have.