EMERGING defender Harry Maguire has already achieved one ambition with selection for England Under-21s.
Now he wants a league winner’s medal to go with it.
After snuffing out the threat of fellow 19-year-old Jake Cassidy during a goalless stalemate against the League One leaders Tranmere, Maguire is convinced third-placed Blades have what it takes to clinch the title.
“Our target since the start of the season has been to win the league – we want that top spot. We are thereabouts at the minute but feel we could have had more points than what we have got,” said the club product.
“We knew it was going to be tough and we wanted the three points, but it wasn’t to be and we just need to work on our offensive play and kick on to next week. If we play with that intensity every week, we will win most games.”
Manager Danny Wilson, who has had to rebuild since the disappointment of last season’s Wembley play-off final defeat, is equally bullish. “From our perspective we would like to get in that top position, but we know it is going to be very tough.
“We know we are very capable and believe that, at the end of the season, we will be in the top two places. We believe that but it won’t be easy to get there because, as you saw, there are some very strong challengers up there.”
Of the challenges he faced before the season kicked off, Wilson continued: “We lost a lot of players for obvious, well-documented reasons and it’s difficult to replace them. We lost four or five players who have gone to higher leagues and are plying their trade elsewhere. That’s what happens when clubs come knocking and you don’t have the finances to keep them or you have to get your finances in order, particularly now with the new financial regulations we have to adhere to.
“We have all got to adhere to spending no more than 65 per cent of our income. We have to abide and adhere to it like everyone else, but the expectation level here is far higher, that’s the problem.
“The expectation level here is sky high and we have to try and live with that, but that’s what comes with being at a big club.
“So it’s difficult, but I have to say we have enough quality in the club to mount a good challenge.”
That quality was particularly apparent at the back.
With Tony McMahon returning at right-back – he forced the only decent save of the game from Owain Fon Williams in the first half – goalkeeper George Long did not have a save to make, Tranmere being reduced to long-range attempts and only going close when Andy Robinson’s free-kick from the left landed on the top of the bar after the interval.
“The back four have been great all season but (Saturday’s) was arguably our strongest back four we could put out. They have the experience we need and if we can defend like that, week-in, week -out we won’t go far wrong,” said Wilson. “We were terrific at the back – that’s not an area we have great concern with. It’s just getting people in who have a bit more composure in key areas.”
Maguire added: “We feel like week in, week out we are coming on as a back five and are learning each other’s games. Tony is only new and every game he plays he does well and we hope we will keep many more clean sheets.”
Wilson knows there are areas which need improvement and, without the injured Kevin McDonald to pull the strings in midfield, he brought Ryan Flynn inside, but that sacrificed a threat from the left as Marcus Williams was employed to do more of a containing job on Michael O’Halloran.
Nick Blackman also had an unusually quiet game on the right, slashing a shot wide from his one opening late in the encounter after going past Zoumana Bakayogo.
Strikers Shaun Miller and Chris Porter received little service and Blades fans were only enthused by the second-half introduction of forward Dave Kitson, who had missed the previous 10 games with hamstring trouble.
“Dave’s return gives everyone a lift and that’s no disrespect to anyone who has been playing at the time,” added Wilson.
“The fans will always have their favourites and when their favourite comes on it lifts the whole stadiium. Unfortunately he didn’t get the goal, but it didn’t stop him giving everyone a big lift.”
Former Rotherham chief Ronnie Moore took a point from Bramall Lane last season shortly after being brought in to help save Tranmere from the drop. He was delighted to claim another. “We have come here and competed with the best at this level. Our lads have been absolutely fantastic and we could even have nicked it. We certainly weren’t on the back foot.”
Sheffield United: Long, McMahon, Collins, Maguire, Hill; Blackman, Flynn, Doyle, Williams (McAllister 74); Miller, Porter (Kitson 63). Unused substitutes: Wetlake, Cresswell, Cofie, McFadzean, Coyne.
Tranmere Rovers: Fon Williams, Holmes, Taylor, Goodison, Bakayogo; O’Halloran, Palmer, Power, McGurk; Robinson (Thompson 77); Cassidy. Unused substitutes: Black, Harrison, Stockton, Kay, Daniels, Mooney.
Referee: E Ilderton (Tyne and Wear).