Just as circumstances – principally injuries – have conspired against tomorrow’s visitors Liverpool, so they have with the Blades.
Results have faltered since a 2019-20 better than anyone could have dreamt but the foundations remain. Even 14 points – possibly more by kick-off depending how Newcastle United fare this evening – adrift of safety with only 13 games to do something about it, there is little talk of manager Chris Wilder losing his job – quite the opposite from chairman Musaad bin Khalid Al Saud.
There are lots of things United do not have just now – most pressingly the injured Jayden Bogle, Chris Basham, John Egan, Jack O’Connell, Sander Berge, Jack Rodwell, Jack Robinson and unavailable Lys Mousset – but what they do is precious.
Wilder and captain Billy Sharp grew up on the Bramall Lane terraces but you do not have to have been raised on greasy chip butties and Tony Currie to “get” the Blades. Nottingham-born McGoldrick is proof of that. Sometimes when clubs drop out of the Premier League there is a rush for the exits, but you suspect it will be more of a trickle for them.
“One million per cent this is the best time of my career,” 33-year-old McGoldrick says of his mathematics-defying time in Yorkshire. “I wish I was 10 years younger.
“I’ve had a great two-and-a-half years and I can say that even now when we’re bottom of the league. It’s a absolute pleasure to play for the club and I’m loving every minute. I don’t want it to stop any time soon even though I’ve got a fight on my hands to play.”
It is, says Wilder, invaluable.
“Brian Deane got what Sheffield United was all about, Tony Agana got what Sheffield United was all about in my period,” says the former right-back. “Bash(am) gets what Sheffield United’s all about, Jags (Jagielka) does, Didzy (McGoldrick) does.
“The club grabs you and takes you along on the ride. It wraps you up and becomes part of your life. The sun isn’t always shining, certainly at the bottom end, but it will shine again for us and we’ve got to believe in that day and keep working hard towards it.
“It gives you an advantage on the field if you get the club and David McGoldrick is a prime example. He came here from Ipswich for a few days (on trial). He didn’t give it the big ,un to say, ‘I’m not going up there for three or four days’. He’d have played against us at Bramall Lane, it would have suited him in terms of how we play, the location is important because he got back up to his family in Nottingham.
“He had a fabulous (first) season culminating in promotion and off the back of that a season in the Premier League. There were games when he was substituted after 75, 80 minutes having not scored but done everything to try to score, to set the team up and make things happen, to put his body on the line and chase back, and he got a standing ovation from 30,000 people who are not mug punters.
“How can he not get it?”
It might seem odd to laud the spirit of what the table says is the worst team in the Premier League, but there are extenuating circumstances.
The injury to Virgil van Dijk, compounded by the loss of Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, Fabinho and now stand-in centre-back Jordan Henderson has turned all-conquering Liverpool into mere mortals. For van Dijk read O’Connell, the left-sided centre-back so fundamental to the Blades’ unusual style of play, and for the rest read Basham, Egan, Rodwell, Robinson and wing-back Bogle. Wilder concedes he may not have enough central defenders to play the 3-5-2 formation he has shown such unbreakable faith in.
“If you miss key pieces of the jigsaw, that’s how it unfolds,” argues McGoldrick.
“Last year we had a solid back three in Basham, Egan and Jack. Jack knew when to overlap, when to stay and when to pass. He is a solid defender, a real leader. The way he trains he was the best at the club and the hardest worker.
“Anyone missing, you feel it. Enda Stevens has been out for long periods, John Fleck and Sander Berge, a great young player just finding his feet. You’re used to playing with certain people, people take time to bond. It’s not a normal 4-4-2 formation.”
Sheffield United is not a normal football club, which is why people like the man from Nottingham who has fallen in love with it are so important.
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