After an afternoon of repelling almost everything Derby County’s expensive and experienced forward line threw at him, Richard Stearman stood in the away dug out at Pride Park and declared himself content with an ‘easy’ day’s work.
Yes, he said, Sheffield United did deserve more than the point they brought back to Sheffield after Leon Clarke’s equaliser and no, their league position of seventh doesn’t accurately reflect their performances in recent weeks and months.
But Stearman, the summer signing from Fulham, has been in the game long enough to know that looking forward, rather than back, is the key to success and hopes the Derby draw is a launchpad for bigger and better things.
“We were disappointed not to get more,” Stearman told The Star.
“We felt a point was the least we deserved.
“Personally I felt I did better in the second half; in the first, I lost a couple of headers which was upsetting. But as the game went on the defence grew very strong and nullified them to very little.
“You look at their teamsheet and they’ve got some big names, they’re a club that’s spent quite a lot of money, and it’s been quite easy for us out there.
“We moved the ball quite well and the midfield boys dominated some more big names so, all in all, it was another very positive away performance.”
New Year’s Day’s draw at Derby was the latest victory for character over cash for Chris Wilder’s men, who dominated the game with a team that cost roughly 10 per cent of the collective outlay of the hosts.
Matěj Vydra cost between £8m and £10m when arriving from Watford and started alongside £2.5m David Nugent, with Chris Martin and Sheffield Wednesday loanee Sam Winnall coming off the bench.
“Money maybe helps in football, but it doesn’t guarantee anything,” Stearman added.
“It’s credit to the boss, the staff and all the boys when we go to places like this and Villa and get a result.
“It’s not just the transfer fees but the amount of wages, too... but we’ve more than matched them, and have been the better team against Derby.
“It’s been a little bit of a motivation for us, we’ve been an underdog in this league so far because of our budget but we’re coming to teams with more money and bigger squads and dominating them.
“Now, this has got to be the start of a run. We’ve performed very well in recent games without picking up the points that we deserve, and that’s down to us.
“We’re playing some magnificent stuff that teams can’t deal with. We just need to tighten up a little in both boxes, and we’ll fly up the league again.”
The 30-year-old has started United’s last seven Championship games after being recalled for the trip to Millwall, but is expected to be rested - alongside a host of other key players - for this weekend’s FA Cup trip to Ipswich, with next Friday’s derby at home to Sheffield Wednesday in mind.
But with a fans’ favourite in Jake Wright behind him on the bench - and Wilder pledging to not allow sentiment to rule his team selection - Stearman has an added incentive to perform.
“Having Jake there spurs me on, definitely,” he admitted. “He’s done fantastically well this season. If Jake is playing, I’ll support him 100 per cent and vice-versa.
“It’s an unselfish group and we’re all striving for one common goal, and that’s to pick up points.
“It’s not just the boys that start, but the boys on the bench and the staff and manager; we’re all in it together.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to be a part of a team with no individuals - you can see the bond on the pitch but there’s a bond with the whole squad and with the fans in the stands, too.”
And with 283 Championship games on his CV, Stearman has more second-tier experience than the rest of United’s first-choice defence - Simon Moore, George Baldock, Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell and Enda Stevens - put together.
“I’m loving my football at the minute - I like being in the middle of the three and being able to dictate and communicate with the rest of the lads,” the former Wolves man added.
“It’s nice to be able to get on the ball a bit, and the boys around me make it easy with the running!
“It’s then sort of down to me to keep it ticking over, and try and dictate the play.
“But another of my strengths is my experience and if my voice on the pitch can help those around me, that’s what I’m trying to do.”