For John Lundstram to score twice as Sheffield United entered the Premier League’s VIP section highlighted the fairytale being played out at Bramall Lane.
The Merseysider is typical of those driving the Blades’s success – rejected by Everton as a youngster, loaned to Doncaster Rovers, Yeovil Town, Leyton Orient, Blackpool and Scunthorpe United to learn his trade, punted to Oxford United on a free transfer and even last season unable to get a regular Sheffield United start. Now, with a change of formation to accommodate a third central midfielder, he has become a Premier League ever-present.
Chris Wilder fits the narrative too, having done more hard yards than most to get from the bottom of the English football pyramid to the top, where he manages the club he supports.
“I’ve always felt good on a Saturday when you win,” Wilder shrugged after watching his side demolish Burnley 3-0. “It adds a bit more, it’s a story, innit?”
The danger is that in getting caught up in romantic stories of battling adversity, we lose sight of what a good football team Wilder has assembled.
They spent their Saturday night in the part of the Premier League table normally roped off for the super-clubs and their football looked the part.
At this formative stage of the season, the league table is not that relevant – Wilder refused to give it the time of day – but to be in the top six when their next two opponents, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, are not, ought to give massive confidence.
They certainly had it on Saturday, from George Baldock chesting a Burnley cross to John Fleck deep in his own penalty area to Lundstram forcing Nick Pope to save from an extravagant volley. Mind, if you cannot be full of self-belief when tearing apart one of England’s most stubborn teams, when can you?
If you wanted to put together a DVD of how to play the Wilder way, you could do a lot worse than showing Saturday’s game in its entirety.
There were trademark overlaps from centre-backs and intelligent, accurate crossing from the overloaded wings. They went direct when it was the best option but more often got the ball down, even passing around calmly as Burnley pressed the back three in its own half. The centre-forwards linked play brilliantly, the midfielders arrived late and found the net. Even with the game long since put to bed by Lundstram and Fleck’s first-half goals, they pressed ferociously.
Three goals were plenty against a Clarets side not noted for extravagant scoring, yet there was a hunger for more. Lundstram missed three chances for a hat-trick.
The goal which put Sheffield United ahead after 17 minutes was already typical of their football, Enda Stevens playing a gorgeous ball down the line for David McGoldrick, whose cross was touched into Lundstram’s path by Lys Mousset for a tap-in.
Late in the opening half, two goals in a minute gave the scoreline a realistic look.
It was another fantastic Stevens delivery, this time a cross, and again Mousset teed it up for Lundstram to arrive onto. A fantastic reverse pass from Mousset then allowed Fleck to pick his spot. It was game over, not that you would know from either side’s second-half performances. Burnley at last got into the game, inevitably, but apart from a James Tarkowski header, Dean Henderson was untroubled. Ashley Barnes blazed over and volleyed a deep Matt Lowton cross into the side netting.
The cheers as McGoldrick pinned Burnley into their own half shortly after half-time showed how much the supporters appreciated that there was no letting up. Mousset might have got three assists and Lundstram two goals but McGoldrick, a centre-forward whose last club goals were on Easter Monday, rivalled both as the best player. Jack Cork was 12 yards inside Sheffield United’s half when McGoldrick stole the ball and sprung another counter-attack. He fed Billy Sharp, who was denied by Pope’s legs.
That Sharp was needed because Mousset picked up an injury was the only blot on the Blades’s day.
“Mousset was fabulous,” gushed Wilder.
“The two (near-post) runs for the first two goals cleared the space for Lunny (Lundstram). It wasn’t an unbelievable day for the centre-forwards (in terms of goal output) – Bill had an opportunity, but I look at it as Bill came on and gave us energy and drive - but they were outstanding all afternoon.”
Sharp unselfishly picked out Lundstram in a 90th-minute counter-attack, but the midfielder dragged his shot, having seen an earlier volley saved, then curled wide after cutting inside.
“That would have been a bonus,” said 25-year-old Lundstram, “but I’m just made up to get the two. I’ve had a lot of knockbacks along the way. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s a journey I wouldn’t change.”
Many team-mates have followed similar paths.
“Playing in the lower leagues brings that mentality and we’re all working hard for each other,” Lundstram explained.
He is right, but there is so much more to it than that.