THE similarities between Sheffield United today and Huddersfield Town a year ago are striking.
Not only have the Blades emerged as the heir apparent to the Terriers’ mantle as ‘Championship surprise package’ but Chris Wilder’s men also occupy the third place that a year ago at this stage was housing the John Smith’s Stadium outfit.
The two clubs’ respective records are very similar, too, with United’s 10 wins and five defeats only marginally better than the nine victories and one draw that Town boasted as November dawned last term.
It isn’t, however, just the statistics that suggest a correlation between the Yorkshire duo with the same philosophy and attitude that took Huddersfield into the Premier League also evident at Bramall Lane.
“What Huddersfield did last season by winning promotion can be an inspiration,” said Mark Duffy when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home clash with Hull City.
“We look at what teams like them and Bournemouth have done, they both came from League One and reached the Premier League, and realise what can be achieved.
“They have shown that if you have all the talent in the world but no characters in your team then you won’t win consistently. You might win on a Saturday, but then lose on a Tuesday.
“That sort of thing turns you into a spike team, up one minute and down the next. Here, we have talented players with character. For me, regardless of what league you are in, that takes you a long way.”
Few can disagree with that sentiment following the impressive manner in which the Blades have returned to the Championship after a six-year absence.
Defeat at Queens Park Rangers may have knocked United off top spot in midweek but last season’s League One title winners have already proved their promotion credentials.
We look at what teams like Huddersfield and Bournemouth have done, they both came from League One and reached the Premier League, and realise what can be achieved.Sheffield United’s Mark Duffy
Wolverhampton Wanderers, who replaced United at the summit on Tuesday night, have been beaten at the Lane, while the notable wins on the road at Steel City rivals Wednesday and Leeds United displayed to a wider audience just how much talent can be found in S2.
“Maybe we are not under the radar any more,” said Duffy, when asked if United had made rivals sit up and take note with those derby wins on live TV.
“But I have noticed a few still saying the momentum is with us as a newly-promoted team, which maybe means they think we will fall away. But, for me, the big thing about this team is the quality we have.
“Look at the goals against Leeds (in last week’s 2-1 triumph), they were quality. It has been the same in other games.
“We are not a team who just lump the ball forward and hope to scrap for the bits. We pass our way through teams and create a lot of chances.”
That was certainly the case at Elland Road in a first half that, but for Andy Lonergan in the home goal, could have ended with the visitors two or even three goals ahead.
As it was, Kalvin Phillips had cancelled out Billy Sharp’s opener by the time the half-time whistle blew a week last Friday and it took a late strike from David Brooks to seal a deserved three points.
Manager Wilder was critical of his side’s performance in the immediate aftermath, something that surprised many of those watching on television.
Duffy, however, felt the 50-year-old Blades chief got it spot on.
“Our passing was disappointing to me,” said the midfielder, who set up both goals against Leeds. “If it had been better, we would have taken that game away from Leeds in the first half. If Leeds had won that night, we would have looked them in the face and shook their hands.
“But, thankfully, we had lads like Brooksy to come on with fresh legs and schoolboy looks, and do what he does.”
The emergence of Brooks, who almost joined Chesterfield on loan last summer, has been a major bonus for the Blades this term. His performances against Wednesday and Leeds, in particular, suggest he is not someone fazed by the big occasion, which judging by United’s current position is likely to be a useful trait as the season wears on.
“Going top like we did against Leeds is more than we could have probably expected at the start of the season,” added Duffy, in his second year at the Lane.
“People were saying about us, ‘First and foremost, it is about survival’. Others would say we should assess where we are after a certain number of games.
“But we are just enjoying what is a fantastic ride at the moment. Long may it continue, as everyone wants to play in big games.”
The Blades return to the Lane today to meet a Hull side still struggling to adapt to life back in the second tier following relegation.
It has been a happy hunting ground for the hosts since the start of February with 15 league games having yielded 40 points, just Norwich City and Scunthorpe United heading home with any kind of reward.
Such dominance has helped Wilder’s Blades rack up a remarkable 130 points from his 61 games in charge, the first four of which last season included three defeats and a draw.
“Not a bad record, is it?” said Duffy about a manager who is every bit as driven and demanding as Wagner at Huddersfield. “People ask what his secret is but, to us, he is just the gaffer. He is committed to the club and that filters through to the rest of us.
“We had an off day in training last week and he let us know about it. He called a quick little meeting after training and told the players what he thought, how there would be no taking the foot off the gas under him. ‘If you are not at it in training, I will change the team around’. That was his basic message to us.
The lads weren’t surprised, we knew what was coming. And we knew he was right. The session hadn’t been good enough.
“Training can be as feisty as games. Jack O’Connell will be flying into people and the gaffer sometimes has to say, ‘Calm down, we have a game on Saturday’. But by taking training that seriously we are a better team for it in games.”