Write Sheffield United's 'old guard' off at your peril - Alan Biggs' Blades column

Six members of what might be termed Bramall Lane’s old guard did the business again on Tuesday to see Sheffield United back into the play-off places.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 10:48 am

In a typically defiant effort, it would likely have been seven but for the continued absence of skipper and top scorer Billy Sharp.

Make it eight if you like in that the fully rekindled Sander Berge was recruited to the Blades team that finished ninth in the Premier League two years ago.

Think about it. That’s eight players who either won their spurs at the highest level or could legitimately claim proof that they can play there.

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Everyone assumes there will be a big shake-up in the summer whatever division United find themselves in. Any core squad that has been together as long as this, up to six years in some cases, does need freshening.

But - and it’s a big but - where would you swing the axe? Maybe we have all been guilty, including here in this column, of being a touch premature. These players keep coming back to show resilience, pride and professionalism.

It’s one thing to say change is needed collectively. To point the finger individually is much more difficult; that’s where it gets tough.

Paul Heckingbottom celebrates Sheffield United's win over QPR: Richard Sellers / Sportimage

On Tuesday you had John Fleck close to his best form again, a strong return from injury by Enda Stevens, George Baldock in the groove on the opposite flank, Oli Norwood weighing in with a winning goal, Berge driving strongly from midfield, John Egan anchoring at the back.

And while the public jury may still be out on Oli McBurnie - understandably in view of his lack of goals - I thought he played a significant and intelligent part in establishing supremacy over Queens Park Rangers.

Undeniably there is a limited goal threat in the team, certainly so without Sharp, and an over-reliance on the outstanding Morgan Gibbs-White as the springboard.

But it may be many years before United have as good a team nucleus as this has been. So you discard any single one of them at your peril.

To learn the lessons of last time, the Blades will need something extra in quality terms if they make another big leap.

But the proud unit of the past and present will take some shifting. And some bettering.