De­sire of the Blades helps them make big step up

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL - AT BRAMALL LANE Email: nick.westby@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @NWest­byYPS­port

IF ever con­fir­ma­tion was needed as to the strength of the com­mit­ment to one another that is the hall­mark of this Sh­effield United team it ar­rived in the 36th minute at Bramall Lane on Satur­day.

An­dreas Weimann, the Derby County schemer, played a through ball to Matej Vy­dra that sliced open the Blades’ de­fence and left the sea­soned Cham­pi­onship op­er­a­tor bear­ing down on goal.

The out­come seemed in­evitable as the Czech striker – with a goal ev­ery four games at in­ter­na­tional level – pre­pared to pull the trig­ger.

But match­ing him stride for stride was a pint-sized mid­fielder more ac­cus­tomed to cre­at­ing goals than pre­vent­ing them.

Yet af­ter 35 yards of chas­ing, com­bat­ive Glaswe­gian John Fleck was not fin­ished as he timed a su­perb tackle to per­fec­tion to deny a cer­tain goal.

Then he was straight on his feet to race up­field to help launch another at­tack.

That Fleck did the same mid­way through the sec­ond half, again to deny Vy­dra and this time with the use of his body, summed up the in­dus­tri­ous na­ture of his own per­for­mance and that of his team.

Blades man­ager Chris Wilder hailed this win over Derby as their best re­sult of the em­bry­onic sea­son, be­cause a hard-work­ing per­for­mance pro­duced a pos­i­tive re­sult.

“It was a proper Sh­effield United per­for­mance,” he beamed af­ter­wards. “What this club is all about, and it’s what our fans ex­pect us to be like – in pos­ses­sion we’re go­ing for­ward and go­ing for it, and out of pos­ses­sion, we’re be­ing tough, get­ting around the ball, win­ning tack­les, head­ers and races, and re­cov­er­ing and work­ing our hearts out.”

The goals may have come about for­tu­itously; Billy Sharp re­turn­ing Derby goal­keeper Scott Car­son’s tame clear­ance with a first­time shot from 25 yards af­ter four min­utes and Johnny Rus­sell tak­ing the ball off the boot-laces of Caolan Lav­ery and sweep­ing it be­yond his own be­wil­dered goal­keeper just be­fore the break.

The fi­nale may have been more hec­tic than was nec­es­sary, with Craig Bryson head­ing Derby a life­line in the ‘ 92nd’ minute to threaten an un­likely share of the spoils be­fore Sharp quashed any hope of a come­back with another well-placed shot into an un­guarded goal af­ter Car­son had raced up­field to add an ex­tra body in the penalty area.

But it was no less war­ranted. Even then, Wilder would point to the good for­tune of those in­cred­i­bly soft goals ow­ing as much to how United have to equip them­selves dur­ing life back in the sec­ond tier af­ter six years away as Derby’s gen­eros­ity.

“(Derby man­ager) Gary (Rowett) might point to the mis­takes they’ve made, but the key is when they do make mis­takes we have to pun­ish them and we’ve done that,” said Wilder.

“Any team that plays us at Bramall Lane is go­ing to have to do a lot of things very well to get a re­sult. If they don’t have good days, then we’ll pun­ish them.”

Buy­ing into that the­ory as much as any­one is Paul Coutts, United’s cul­tured mid­fielder, who along with Fleck was able to force a mid­field packed full of Pre­mier League ex­pe­ri­ence in Tom Hud- dle­stone and Weimann to play too deep in their own ter­ri­tory.

“The gaffer banged on at us all week about how we’d need all 11 play­ers, plus the lads com­ing off the bench, putting in a shift,” said Coutts, a Nigel Clough sign­ing from Derby some two and a half years ago.

“And that’s what we’re all about; no in­di­vid­ual star names, just team­work and to­geth­er­ness, and we’ve got Sharpy, who puts the ball in the back of the net. “That’s our big­gest strength. “We’ve jumped up a league so we need to stick to­gether, work hard, out­work the op­po­si­tion and try and play our foot­ball when we get the chance.

“You’ve just got to dig in for each other – and that got us over the line this time.”

There were mo­ments of con­cern, but never panic, for United. The three-man cen­tral de­fence held shape well, par­tic­u­larly through Jack O’Con­nell.

While the win at least breaks the rou­tine of 1-0 home vic­to­ries courtesy of Sharp, the 31-year-old is still their only goalscorer this term. They also need to dis­tort the sym­me­try of their sea­son, with per­fec­tion at home jar­ring with a point­less yield on the road.

But it is still very early days and United can be proud of how well they have adapted so far.

“We’ve done all right in the tougher games so far and we can take pos­i­tives into the in­ter­na­tional break,” was Coutts’s as­sess­ment. “They al­ways say 10 games is a good gauge so the next block of fix­tures will be im­por­tant.”

Wilder will look to bring in more play­ers be­fore the clo­sure of the trans­fer win­dow on Thurs­day night, to add to Tot­ten­ham de­fender Cameron Carter-Vick- ers, who ar­rived late last week. Wilder will put squad-strength­en­ing at the heart of ev­ery de­ci­sion he makes, with the Blades fan con­scious that there is no room for sen­ti­ment as he seeks to im­prove a team that has not lost in league foot­ball at Bramall Lane since Jan­uary.

Who­ever comes in, team­work will have to be at their heart.

Sh­effield United cap­tain Billy Sharp cel­e­brates mak­ing the game safe with his late sec­ond goal af­ter Derby County had pulled it back to 2-1. Inset, Blades play­ers show their de­light af­ter Johnny Rus­sell scored an un­for­tu­nate own goal for the vis­i­tors.

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