RICHARD CRESSWELL is breathing a massive sigh of relief.
For the first time in three years, his club survived a transfer window without having to shake things up in the loan market.
To some, that might sound insignificant, but to Cresswell it says everything he wants to hear.
The Blades, relegated from the Championship last season, have found stability and once again have a squad winning games on a regular basis.
Maintaining the status quo, despite the financial pressures at Bramall Lane, was always going to be a major boost to a promotion quest.
According to Cresswell, there had been enquiries for some of the Blades’ best players.
He would never say who but Ched Evans, Harry Maguire, Stephen Quinn and Matt Lowton were all on the radars of Championship clubs.
Significantly, there was not a single big name departure and, in another sign of progression, manager Danny Wilson saw no urgent need to bolster his squad with loanees other than striker Will Hoskins.
How different to the last two seasons when the Blades shipped players in and out with disturbing regularity and ended up going nowhere but down.
With Wilson stating on Thursday that no one will be leaving before the summer, Cresswell feels there is even greater reason for optimism.
“We just wanted some stability and I think we have got that now,” said the veteran striker. “Last season and the season before, we had a lot of players coming in on loan. This time the squad is together and will, hopefully, remain together right until the wire.
“The gaffer and the staff had been saying that it would feel like another signing if we could only keep the squad together in the transfer window. I think the players agreed with that, too. We all wanted to stay together.
“Obviously, there was interest from other clubs in quite a number of our players but we will see what happens now in the run-in. The squad names itself and that’s got to help our situation.”
Cresswell, who originally moved on loan from Stoke City in September, 2009, is a regular for the Blades, who today host Wycombe Wanderers.
The postponement of last weekend’s game at Colchester United meant the Blades, who are fourth, have two games in hand on third-placed Huddersfield Town and second-placed Sheffield Wednesday. If they win both, they will reclaim second spot.
“We all wanted a game last weekend after the poor result against Birmingham City in the FA Cup. When you’re winning games, you just want to keep it going,” he said. “Obviously, you would take six points instead of games in hand but we are confident in our ability.
“We had been playing really well until the Birmingham game – although we lost 4-0 we still had good spells – but the lads are chomping at the bit to get out there again and play some football this weekend.”
When the Blades lost at Wycombe in September, it coincided with the team’s worst run of results this season.
A solitary goal by Stuart Beavon settled the contest yet the Blades had dominated the afternoon and created a string of scoring opportunities.
Over the course of six league games, the Blades picked up only five points and dropped out of the play-off zone. However, since mid-November, the Blades have won 11 out of 14 games in all competitions.
“It was a funny old game at Wycombe,” reflected Cresswell, who was only used as a substitute at Adams Park. “It was probably the most one-sided 1-0 defeat I have watched for a long time. They took their chance and got the result but we are a different team now.
“I think we are a lot better side now. We have progressed and are finishing teams off,” he explained. “We move the ball better and quicker and we are getting down the side and putting early balls into the box quite regularly which has paid off.
“We have all gained in confidence since that game and we are playing some good stuff. We have come together as a team and a squad and we all know our roles individually and collectively. Over the last couple of months that has been evident in our performances.”
Wilson’s decision to sign former Rotherham United striker Hoskins on loan until the end of the season has increased the competition for places in United’s attack.
Along with Cresswell and Hoskins, Wilson has Welsh international Evans, former England striker James Beattie, and Chris Porter fighting for the two forward roles in his side.
“There is good competition for places which is good. The gaffer has options and we have been scoring goals quite regularly,” said Cresswell. “I still get that frustration if I’m not playing which is why I give it all every time I go onto the pitch.
“Being a substitute doesn’t get any easier to accept as you get older. Not at all. If you have got a burning desire to play every week you can be frustrated. And if you lose that, you might also lose part of your game.
“You just have to believe in your own ability and go out and do your best. If you go out and do well, it gives the gaffer a problem to leave you out.”
Cresswell and Wilson go back a long way. The pair were first united 13 years ago when Wilson was manager of Sheffield Wednesday and paid nearly £1m to sign the striker from York City as a 21-year-old.
Unfortunately for both, the move was a disappointment and Cresswell started just eight times in 18 months before being off-loaded to Leicester City.
Despite the first encounter, Cresswell has nothing but admiration for Wilson and the way he has gone about his job at Bramall Lane.
“I have been impressed with the gaffer but not surprised,” he stressed. “He’s been around a long time and is a fantastic manager. He has great man-management skills and seems to be able to get the best out of his players. I think that’s why he has been in the game so long.”
Freezing weather this week has limited the amount of time the Blades have been able to spend on their training pitches at Shirecliffe. However, unlike many clubs in League One, they have been able to train on an indoor pitch at their Academy or on a heated pitch at the stadium.
Wycombe manager Gary Waddock, meanwhile, says his side have ‘nothing to lose and everything to gain’ this afternoon.