DEFENDER Richard Stearman offers a steely response to any outsiders who suggest that Sheffield United’s Championship bubble is in danger of bursting.
The vastly-experienced Stearman has only been a resident at S2 since the summer, but already possesses a fervent belief that the Blades have the requisite strength – both mental and technical – to stick around at the business end of the table until late Spring.
As for the doubters who feel that the club’s winless streak of three matches and modest return of two wins in their past six outings are the first signs of cracks appearing, they provide a handy motivational tool for manager Chris Wilder’s players.
With such a driven and ‘together’ group of individuals, managed by a single-minded leader in Wilder, the perils of writing off the Blades are surely self-evident.
On whether those who suggest that the Blades’ form will tail off can serve as a motivation, Stearman, speaking ahead of this evening’s encounter with fellow high-fliers Bristol City, said: “I think so. It gives us even more of a determination to prove people wrong and show that we can stay the course and hold on for as long as we can and see where we are at the end of the season.
“We have performed well under pressure and I think teams and people on the outside have been waiting for us to slip up and thinking, ‘when will the Blades tail off?’
“Up until the last couple of games, that has not been the case. This is another good test for us.
“As soon as I stepped into the dressing room you could see that with the talent in the squad and staff, it is all geared up to having a big push.
“I was fortunate enough to win League One with a different team and the following season that momentum and squad unity almost saw us in the play-offs as well. It all bodes well.
“The team spirit here is very impressive and one of the best I have been a part of.
“It is certainly a big strength of ours within the dressing room and driving us on to be near the top of the league.”
Wilder’s demand for high standards precedes him, with his disappointment at the way in which the Blades uncharacteristically dipped from those levels in last weekend’s 3-1 loss at Millwall made clear to his players.
A no-holds-barred, near 45-minute inquest in a locked away dressing room after the game certainly made a point or three, while serving – psychologically – as a reminder to his players not to believe that they have mastered the Championship just yet.
Wilder’s anger was pronounced and players certainly knew where they stood.
And as a veteran of many dressing rooms, and with experience of dealing with a fair number of managers during his career, Stearman is of the view that the honest old-fashioned straightforward approach is what ultimately garners respect.
Stearman added: “One manager who was like that was Mick McCarthy. He was very straight and down the line and you knew exactly where you stood. You build up a good relationship with a manager just through trust, really.
“I value that highly in a manager and I think this one has that as a quality of his.
“Obviously a manager cannot tell you everything he is thinking. His job is to make decisions, and not yours, and that is what he gets paid for.
“But it certainly helps to build up a relationship with a manager who speaks to you and speaks the truth, you would like to think.
“I think it will give players a few extra per cent to want to run through a brick wall for a manager. They will think less of an individual looking after themselves and more, as a team, for a manager himself.
“You can see from the great team spirit we have here that the boys want to play for this manager and that can be massive within a club in succeeding and picking up points.
“Maybe you would not do so if he was a little bit selfish or thought of himself rather than the team.”
Just as Wilder hammered home the mantra of high standards last weekend, so his experienced players have taken on the baton to reinforce the message this week about not tolerating further slackness within a dressing-room that is self-policing and values the team collective above all.
It is a sign of a good, strong dressing room and there are likely to be few tighter ones than the Blades’.
The club may not have paid out eye-watering fees like some at this level, but they do have an abundance of riches in other respects, with their collective unity being something that money cannot buy – and likely to be the envy of a number of their Championship rivals.
Stearman added: “There are a lot of big names with money and big clubs that maybe are not performing as well as they would hoped with the money that they have spent.
“Teams that possibly have not spent as much or the budget is not quite as big are performing better.
“You can put that down to a team spirit, work ethic or togetherness or possibly a manager that they may believe in.”
Last six games: Sheffield United LWWLDL Bristol City WWDLWW.
Referee: D Coote (West Yorkshire).
Last time: Sheffield United 1 Bristol City 2; August 9, 2014; League One.