Sheffield United kept up the pressure on the top two last night with a hard-fought win against Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough.
The Blades put the disappointment of losing the three goal lead against Aston Villa behind them with a measured display in front of their own fans. It took them to within touching distance of Norwich City, who were beaten 3-1 by Preston.
Richard Stearman grabbed the vital goal and they played the last 25 minutes against ten men after Daniel Ayala was sent off. There was no late comeback for the opponents this time out and the Blades opened up a four point gap between themselves and the chasing pack.
It was a vital win for Chris Wilder’s side, their fourth match unbeaten and the perfect way to go into this weekend’s clash with Reading. After that, there’s the small matter of West Brom next weekend, a game that will define both club’s seasons.
What did we learn from last night that they might take forward into the next few matches? FLW looks at THREE aspects of the result that should hearten Blades fans…
Adapting the defence
The Blades have peddled a 3-4-1-2 all season, with the bedrock of their success built on the back three. Last night they were missing two of their usual defenders, Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham.
Led by John Egan, you wouldn’t have known the other two weren’t regular centre backs. Enda Stevens put in an assured display on one side and Martin Cranie did the same on the other.
It’s not just Leeds United that can adapt to losing key players with relative ease.
Madine came on at half time for Mark Duffy and he put in a terrific performance for his new club.
Having been a Sheffield Wednesday player he might have to work hard to win the crowd over, but his robust nature and excellent hold up play fits perfectly with Chris Wilder’s set up.
Many more outings like this and he’ll be forgotten as a former Owl.
Having been sucker punched by Villa on Friday, there could have been a capitulation last night. They were weak in the dying minutes against Villa but against a more robust and direct Boro side, they bounced back tremendously.
All season they’ve shown great character, after a tough start they firmly placed themselves in the top three and despite setbacks, they keep performing above and beyond their means.