It will come as a surprise to the opposition centre-forwards he has battered, bruised and bullied since arriving at Bramall Lane but Ethan Ebanks-Landell has a softer side.
“I enjoy cooking a few meals and do a mean stir fry,” the centre-half smiles. “It might not be the hardest thing to rustle up in the world but, even if I do say so myself, it’s still pretty good.”
Ebanks-Landell is relaxing in a chair at Sheffield United’s training complex, laughing, cracking jokes and generally joshing, as he discusses his culinary expertise. With Chris Wilder’s side sitting on top of the table and clutching a new long-term contract from Wolverhampton Wanderers, life is pretty peachy for the 24-year-old right now.
But it is Ebanks-Landell’s performances on the pitch, not in the kitchen, which have seen him become a cult-hero among United fans. Having won 18 of their 26 matches since his arrival in August, the League One leaders were understandably delighted earlier this month when it was revealed Paul Lambert would not be terminating the defender’s season long loan. Ebanks-Landell has been good for United. But, make no mistake, United have been good for Ebanks-Landell too.
“Just playing games helps you improve,” he continues. “Even if you aren’t doing well, you learn so much more if you’re actually involved. If you are out there on the pitch, then you experience so many different situations and appreciate what you can do, what you can’t do and the areas where you need work. Basically, being out there in the thick of things helps you understand the game as a whole a lot better. Makes you a more well-rounded pro’.”
Ebanks-Landell, who is now tied to Wolves until 2020, entered Molineux’s system as a youngster before making his debut for the club four seasons ago. A temporary transfer to Bury, then managed by Wilder’s predecessor Kevin Blackwell, provided a first taste of senior football before returning to help his parent club win promotion to the Championship in 2014. United, who enter tomorrow’s game against Gillingham six points clear of third placed Bolton, are well positioned to achieve the feat themselves.
“Kevin Blackwell at Bury taught me some things and so did Kenny Jackett at Wolves. But when you are winning, you learn even more. You get the confidence to try things and then, even if they don’t come off, you think ‘I can’t do that so I’m not doing it again.’ That, learning what it takes to win, is how I’ve improved here.”
“Under Kevin Blackwell at Bury, I was very young and inexperienced,” Ebanks-Landell adds. “It was hard but even when I wasn’t doing well, he didn’t get on at me and knew when to take me out of the team and when to put me back in.
“Kenny, although I had quite a few injuries under him, he showed no fear about putting me in and that made me feel good about myself. I knew he felt I was a half decent player.
“Here, it knowing what you’ve got to do to make sure you get the results you want. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt. The gaffer is always on at us that if we can’t win, then don’t lose. That attitude, he’s very intense on that.”
United have undergone a refresher course in the art-of-winning after being beaten by Walsall last weekend. Despite boasting the second best attack in the division and averaging nearly two goals per game, conceding four against a team which started the match 17 places below them in the table has not gone down well with Ebanks-Landell.
“I’ve scored a few myself this season but, to be honest, the goals aren’t that important. I’m definitely part of the old school and, even though it’s nice to stick the ball away, my job is to keep it out of the net. Yes, there’s that initial rush when you score but I’d swap them for a clean sheet.”
If United keep their ninth of the campaign against Gillingham then, given their prowess in the final third, the chances are they will claim all three points. Wilder’s team have hit the target 51 times this term with defenders, including Ebanks-Landell, contributing 16 of those. A situation which, he admits, has prompted some friendly banter with flatmate Leon Clarke whose season has been interrupted by injury.
“Leon wants me to score as little as possible because he knows I’ll be telling him about it all summer. We’re in a Whats ‘App group, all of the boys here, and I keep throwing a few little digs in. But he’s a good striker, he can score six or seven on the spin easily. So there’s no worries about that.
“But us lads at the back are chipping in and we’ve got our own little competition going on. Kieron (Freeman) is in front, Jack (O’Connell) isn’t far off my tail but Jake (Wright) hasn’t got one yet. I’ll sure everyone will be in raptures when he does. I don’t know what the forfeit will be at the end of the season for whoever loses. But Jake’s not going to want a big one is he?”
Lambert, who took charge of Wolves in November, recently ran the rule over Ebanks-Landell at the club’s Sir Jack Hayward training complex. It was a decision which initially provoked fears he would be recalled early but, as the player himself explains, was simply part of a housekeeping process.
“Paul said, because I play in a three here, he wanted to see me in a four. In a three, it’s a bit less intense because you have a lot more cover. Playing in a three is very different, I enjoy playing different roles because it gives you a different perspective on things.”