Sheffield United's high sub standards show another side to their game

Oli McBurnie's goal on Sunday was Sheffield United's fifth by a substitute in this season's Premier League
Oli McBurnie's goal on Sunday was Sheffield United's fifth by a substitute in this season's Premier League
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Sheffield United's season is full of contrasts which shows why you can make a big mistake by jumping to simplistic conclusions about them.

READ MORE - Oli McBurnie strikes late against Manchester United to keep the feelgood factor rolling at Sheffield United

The Blades have the third best defensive record in the Premier League, yet their buccaneering centre-backs have added entertainment to the top division. Defensively it is all about a solid shape, but when they have possession, red-and-white-shirted players can pop up anywhere.

Even Phil Jagielka labels them “aggressive”, yet earlier this month the club's official Twitter account was able to proudly show off the push-and-run goal John Lundstram finished off against Burnley and label it “The Sheff United way”.

And so it is that the most settled team in the league are also its top scorers from the bench.

Until Sunday's match against Manchester United, the Blades had eight league ever presents this season. Of the rest, Lundstram had only missed two August matches. On-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson's ineligibility to face his parent club Manchester United and John Egan's clash of heads on international duty tarnished the record slightly, but this is a team which knows one another inside out.

“You look left, you look right, you look into the eyes of your team-mates and everyone is thinking the same,” said Jagielka, who was made to wait until Sunday for the first Premier League start of his second spell at Bramall Lane by the consistency of Chris Wilder's back five.

But top-level football is no longer a game of 11 v 11.

At a time when team can choose three from seven substitutes – four from seven in extra-time during the cup competitions – a good bench has never been more important. Despite having so many players, like Jagielka, struggling to get picked every week, Wilder also has a strong bench.

You expect it of Manchester United, England's richest football club, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used his to good effect on Sunday, bringing Mason Greenwood off the bench as soon as Brandon Williams gave them a glimmer of hope in the game, and watching as the teenager equalised a minute later. If anyone should know how to make an impact substitute it is the Norwegian.

But once Marcus Rashford turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead, Wilder's subs came to the fore.

Despite building a team with the solidity not to have lost away from home since mid-January (no other team in Europe's top five leagues can say that), the changes Sheffield United make from the bench tend to be positive.

Even before the Red Devils comeback had started, Wilder had thrown one of the three centre-forwards on his bench into the fray, rather than use Lys Mousset's injury as an excuse to bulk up the midfield and hold onto the lead. By the time it had finished, Billy Sharp had joined Oli McBurnie on the field. So there was only one response to go behind – Callum Robinson was told to get stripped.

Between them, the quartet have already made 23 substitute appearances this season.

The positivity paid dividends, Robinson playing the ball across for McBurnie to control and volley in.

It was the fifth goal a Blades substitute has scored in this season's Premier League – two to McBurnie, two for Mousset and Sharp's equaliser at Bournemouth. None have been for show – McBurnie's equaliser at home to Leicester City ultimately came to nothing, but the rest have been crucial in pushing the team up to sixth in the league.

Brighton and Hove Albion's substitutes have contributed four goals this season, Everton and Norwich City's three each, but the super squads of the elite clubs have mustered no more than two each.

“The right team to start is not always the right one to finish,” said Wilder earlier this month. “The game has changed and evolved, physically and tactically.”

So has Wilder. It is yet another reason his “old school” tag does not tell the full story.