They will enter Saturday’s fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers having conceded only once in 11 outings and hoping to extend an already record breaking run of clean sheets, writes James Shield.
But Kieron Freeman last night revealed there is no great tactical secret behind Sheffield United’s remarkable defensive record.
Instead, the on-loan full-back explained, mental discipline and attention to detail have been absolutely key.
Speaking after Monday evening’s goalless draw at Preston North End, the eighth match in a row where United’s rearguard has not been breached, Freeman told The Star: “You see so many 2-1 and 3-1 games these days so to keep so many clean sheets is a huge credit to the lads and the staff.
“Concentration is a big thing. We let Preston have the ball but that only works if you focus hard on their runners.
“We had to prevent them breaking us down. By the end, they were just kicking the ball into the box. That showed we had done our jobs.”
Freeman, who arrived on a short-term agreement from Derby County 13 days ago, made his full-debut for Nigel Clough’s side at Deepdale having appeared as a substitute against Carlisle five days earlier. Although the match saw United fail to claim an 11th consecutive victory and left them 10 points behind sixth placed Peterborough with only 11 games left to play, it confirmed they possess substance as well as style ahead of next month’s FA Cup semi-final with Hull City.
“As a defender, it is difficult to explain how to get so many clean sheets,” Freeman added. “I only played five minutes before Preston so I am probably not the man to ask but, watching from the sidelines, you know it takes a lot of effort.
“This is a good record to have and be part of it is great. The confidence is flying.
“We showed a different side to our character at Preston. That is the sign of a good team. This is a great bunch of lads, they were so welcoming when I came in.
“Preston had a lot of possession but in areas where they couldn’t really hurt us or break us down. We let them have the ball.
“Look at where they are in the league (fourth). A lot of good sides have lost at Preston so I thought it was a good point and it could be vital come the end of the season.”
United have been transformed since Clough’s appointment five months ago and are preparing for the visit of Wolves 10th in the table having climbed 11 positions in less than seven weeks. However, they could be without full-backs Bob Harris (thigh) and Matt Hill (hamstring) against the League One leaders due to injury.
“It was unfortunate what happened,” Freeman said. “It was strange to lose them both in a couple of minutes at Preston but hopefully they will be back soon.”
Freeman, aged 21, is scheduled to spend four weeks with United before his future is reviewed.
A Wales under-21 international, he is the second player Clough has acquired from County following the signing of Ben Davies ahead of the recent victory triumph over Gillingham. Another loanee, John Brayford, joined Cardiff City from the Championship club.
Freeman, who started his career at Nottingham Forest, enjoyed spells at Notts County and Mansfield Town before being brought to the iPro Stadium by Clough in August 2012.
“It helped that I knew Benny Davies and John Brayford,” Freeman admitted. “To speak to them was great but everyone has made me welcome.
“I will play wherever I am needed. At Forest, as an apprentice, I played left-back so it was nothing new to me having to go in there against Preston when asked.
“I had worked with the gaffer (at Derby) and he knew I was available on loan. I jumped at the chance to come here and work for him again.
“I am still young and need to learn the game. So, going out on loan for games is exactly what I need and hopefully I can contribute now I’m here.
“I wouldn’t mind staying beyond the month but I haven’t spoken to anyone about it. I’m sure what happens will all get sorted out when the time is right and it’s not up to me.”