THE last block of Premier League matches was when Sheffield United showed they really belonged back in the top flight. Even when they were playing in League One, though, George Baldock and John Lundstram knew they were destined for the top.
Now they are determined to stay there.
We haven’t all hit the highs as early as we’d like to, but we’ve come late and we’re hungry. I think that shows in our performance.George Baldock
The Blades came out of October’s hiatus 13th in the table, playing some good football without the results – classic fare from a newly-promoted side adjusting to a more ruthless division.
Crystal Palace and Everton were beaten, spirit had been shown to take a point from Chelsea, and Liverpool had been given an almighty scare, only for an uncharacteristic error by on-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson to condemn Chris Wilder’s side to an undeserved defeat.
It had been a good start, but would only count for something if it was built on.
Since the October internationals, the Blades have won at home to Arsenal and Burnley and come from behind to draw at West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur. All four results were statements in their own way.
As we pause for another round of Euro 2020 qualifiers, Sheffield United sit in fifth, the Premier League’s only guaranteed Europa League spot.
“We’re all going on a European tour,” fans sang on the train home. Maybe not, but for now it is nice to look down on Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham. Nice and important – that cushion will come in handy when the going gets tougher.
Now, though, confidence is high. When the Blades travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers on December 1 it will be 316 days since they lost away.
Given how little Premier League experience the squad had, it has been important to convince the players they were capable of playing in the world’s most high-profile domestic football league. Not that everyone needed it.
Wing-back Baldock’s journey has been typical of the squad’s. While his younger Milton Keynes Dons team-mate Dele Alli was fast-tracked into the Premier League and international football, Baldock did the rounds on loan at League Town Northampton Town and Oxford United – missing Wilder both times but not his informants – Conference side Tamworth, and even a stint in Icelandic football with IBV, before moving to Bramall Lane in 2017.
It was when he played alongside Lundstram at Oxford’s odd three-sided ground Baldock realised he had it in him to go higher. A 3-2 FA Cup win over Swansea City in 2016 with future Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe scoring twice played its part.
“Me and Lunny (Lundstram) went through a time at Oxford when we were both playing well and we beat a Premier League side and we were really high on confidence,” recalls Baldock.
“Lunny’s one of my best mates, he’s my best mate in football. We both said to each other we thought we were going to play in the Premier League, even back then. I don’t know if it was just the law of attraction where you tell yourself something’s going to happen and it happens but to come through and do it with him makes it even more special.
“I think it’s every single person in the dressing room who’s been on this sort of journey. Everyone’s got a story.
“We haven’t all hit the highs as early as we’d like to, but we’ve come late and we’re hungry. I think that shows in our performance.
“Everyone’s got a story, whether it’s playing in the Conference like me, playing abroad, League Two, whatever it is. We’ve all got that fight and desire to improve and I think that’s shown in these opening 12 games.”
Now, aged 26, Baldock is not just a Premier League player but a goal-scorer following a comeback at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which epitomised his team’s hunger and strength in adversity.
“It’s a ‘Come on, let’s have it!’ mentality. It’s, ‘Bring it on, what’s there to lose?’” explained Baldock in the mixed zone after the 1-1 draw. “The majority of lads have played at places which don’t even have one per cent on this place.
“I’ve been abroad and played at places where if you hit the ball too far over it’s going in the sea!
“I’ve been around the block, so to play at this stadium, which is the best in the country and one of the best in the world, to score and to help get a point here for this fantastic football club is brilliant.
“You do definitely look back at your career and just think why can’t you keep going now and play at this level for the rest of it?”
Coming up against Spurs brought Baldock into contact with an old team-mate who only added to the validation.
“I played for a long time with Dele Alli so I had a brief chat with him after,” revealed Baldock. “He congratulated us.
“He’s watched us a few times on the TV and he’s been surprised with how well we’ve played. It’s lovely to hear things like that from such a top-quality player.”
Sheffield United have arrived and now people are starting to notice.