Sheffield United: Experienced former Liverpool defender talks about keeping "chirpy" youngsters in check

“It’s all about keeping them on their toes,” Jack Robinson says, in the same no-nonsense tone he adopts with opposition forwards. “Some of them are a little bit chirpy and they need bringing back down to earth. That’s my job more than anyone else. It’s okay. It’s fine. But sometimes they need to get a little bit further in their career before they start dishing it out.”

Friday, 18th March 2022, 3:45 pm

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First team dressing rooms, particularly those at clubs like Sheffield United with an abundance of domineering characters, can be intimidating places for even the most seasoned of new boys. But some of the youngsters Paul Heckingbottom has invited inside, after seeing injuries and other issues rip the heart out of his squad, aren’t as daunted by the atmosphere as Robinson would like. Even though, as conversation about the new influx continues to flow, it emerges the former Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest centre-half isn’t as irked by their chutzpah as his previous comment might suggest.

“Some of them haven’ even played a game yet and they’re giving you stuff and telling you what to do,” Robinson, a veteran of over 220 career appearances, continues. “No, joking aside, they’re all alright to be fair. I’m not going to chuck anyone under the bus by giving you examples. That’s how it is in there though. They’re all good lads and we’ll make sure they’ll handle themselves as you’re supposed to. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of banter flying about, is there.”

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A BRUTAL BUSINESS

Despite its glamour and rock and roll image, professional football can be a brutal business. It’s something United have been reminded of over the past few weeks as 11 senior players, around “half” of their group by Heckingbottom’s estimation, have succumbed to fitness issues. Having chosen to streamline their options during the January transfer window, ahead of what is expected to be an ever bigger re-profiling exercise this summer, United have raided their development squad to plug the gaps. Kyron Gordon, Kacper Lopata and Will Osula, who made his debut towards the end of Wednesday’s goalless draw with Blackpool, are all expected to be involved against Barnsley tomorrow lunchtime. The same goes for Daniel Jebbison and Oliver Arblaster, with Joe Starbuck and Nickseon Gomis also placed on stand-by for a match Robinson acknowledges is of huge significance at both ends of the table.

“It’s about talking them through the game. Ky has done really well since coming in and you can see he’s growing in confidence during every game. We’ve all been there. We’ve all come through.

“So those of us who are more senior, we help them as much as possible. But they also need to perform, as Ky has done, when they get out there as well. That’s why we like to keep them on their toes because, even though some of them haven’t had a sniff yet, they need to be ready at any point.”

Sheffield United's Jack Robinson talks to the referee after the Sky Bet Championship match at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

FORM BOOK POINTS TO TOUGH TEST

United will climb back into the Championship play-off positions if they beat Poya Asbaghi’s side, who are embroiled in a battle for survival following a terrible start to the campaign. But the form book, coupled with the fact this is a derby of sorts, suggests the contest won’t be as routine as the rankings suggest. The visitors from Oakwell, 16 miles up the motorway, will make the short journey to Bramall Lane having won three and drawn two of their last six outings. United, after seeing two goals controversially disallowed at Bloomfield Road, have taken only one point of a possible six since beating Middlesbrough earlier this month.

Robinson admits fatigue, both mental and physical, might explain that hiccup.

“It’s always easier at home. There’s less pressure because, and especially us, you get that constant backing for 90 minutes and in a division as tough as this one that’s really important.

Chris Basham is among a number of senior Sheffield United players out injured: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“If you look at any team, even one at the top of the league like Fulham, they can go away and get beaten. We beat them at their place just before Christmas as well. It’s such a difficult and demanding league.”

“At the end of the day,” he continues, “Getting a point at Blackpool wasn’t too bad even though we felt it should have been all three. We just want to keep that aspect of things ticking over. That means we’re totally focused on Barnsley now and making sure we do what we want to do in that.”

THE BIG ADVANTAGE

United’s fixture calendar was wrecked by a series of postponements over Christmas and New Year, when Heckingbottom suspected some of their rivals were deliberately manipulating Covid-19 protocols. Although the revised schedule has undoubtedly contributed to United’s injury issues, one potential benefit has emerged. After facing Barnsley, Heckingbottom’s men will have only eight dates remaining on their regular season programme. And five of those are at home.

Will Osula made his Sheffield United debut in midweek: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“If we can keep our form at our place as it has been, then we can push on through the rest,” Robinson insists, noting United haven’t been beaten inside their own stadium for nearly five months. “It’s always on to the next one, that’s how we look at things. We’ll try and continue doing what we’ve been doing all the way through at our place, which is getting on the front foot.

“We didn’t get a few decisions at Blackpool and it was scrappy at times. But now we’re focused on Barnsley and then we’ve got the international break. So hopefully we can use that to get a few players back.”

Will Osula could feature again when Barnsley visit Bramall Lane: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Jack Robinson and John Fleck celebrate Sheffield United's win over Fulham: David Klein / Sportimage