Sheffield United v Tottenham Hotspur – Belief, fight and enjoyment are back for Blades

IF anyone speaks about modern-day footballers not particularly caring about their club’s fortunes – and especially Premier League stars – Ben Osborn would bristle with indignation if he was in close proximity.

Sheffield United's Ben Osborn admits he has been sleeping easier since ending the Blades' winless streak with victory over Newcastle United. Picture: Stu Forster/PA
Sheffield United's Ben Osborn admits he has been sleeping easier since ending the Blades' winless streak with victory over Newcastle United. Picture: Stu Forster/PA

A son of Derby and a boyhood Rams fan, Osborn famously constructed his career across Brian Clough Way at Derby County’s arch rivals Nottingham Forest and earned his stripes with supporters by the Trent.

He is now firmly in the red and white corner of Sheffield United and the Blades’ ghastly season in terms of results has hurt him and his team-mates deeply.

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Osborn, by his own admission, got emotional after United’s Boxing Day loss at home to Everton in a Premier League campaign which has been akin to death by a thousand cuts.

BUOYANT: Sheffield United's Billy Sharp celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with Oliver Norwood and Ben Osborn. Picture: Stu Forster/PA

He professed to feeling embarrassed by the club’s start to the season – on a night when their winless run at the start of 2020-21 extended to 15 games.

Happy Christmas and all that.

It was a good professional plainly speaking from the heart.

As the country continues to suffer badly amid the ravages of Covid-19, sport – and especially football – has provided a distraction and a modicum of comfort amid fraught times for many people.

RELIEF: Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Picture: Oli Scarff/PA

Although for the Blades’ scarred players and supporters, there has been little solace. Until this week.

The scenes at the final whistle of Tuesday night’s precious 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at Bramall Lane, after the hosts’ secured their first league victory in over six months, were heart-warming and relieving.

The win was preceded by an FA Cup success at Bristol Rovers three days earlier, the Blades’ first win in all competitions this term. It might yet turn out to be an important moment in the context of events this season.

Stalked by the Blades’ awful form wherever he has gone since the start of the current campaign, distractions have not been easy to find for Osborn – no matter how hard he has tried.

Now, he might – just might – find one or two a bit more appealing and he has at least been sleeping a bit easier this week.

Osborn, part of a Blades side who triumphed for the first time in 18 league games in 2020-21 in midweek – with the winless sequence extended to 21 matches once the end of last season is factored in – said: “Of course, it is difficult when you work hard all week and the result doesn’t come and you have to start again.

“To work hard and get rewards with a win at the weekend and on Tuesday is great and I have slept a bit better this week, I am not going to lie.”

On how he has coped with the Blades’ grave form, he continued: “You have got to try and get away from it.

“This season, it has been really difficult for 24 or 48 hours after a game. You don’t really want to socialise with anyone.

“But after that, you are back in working and have to put it at the back of your mind and get on with life. I have been okay at doing that this season, but it has been a lot easier this week, for sure.

“Listening to music always helps or even going for a walk or something or completely taking your mind off it by watching a film. But getting away from football for a couple of days is difficult as it is always on the TV.

“Every single game is on, for some reason. You always feel like you want to watch, but sometimes it is good to get away from it, especially in the week so that you come back refocused into work.”

Of course, for United, a couple of swallows does not make a summer, as the saying goes.

It will not be lost upon anyone connected with the club, nor the fact that United’s next three appointments bring them up against Tottenham Hotspur and the two giants of Manchester in their own back gardens.

But the events of this week at least provide a glimmer of hope, moreso given the manner of Tuesday night’s success.

The hosts’ vigour, confidence, desire and aplomb was not that of a side hopelessly adrift at the foot of the table and requiring a miracle to stay in the top-flight.

In many respects, the performance was a throwback to some happier times from last season, which on many occasions, has felt like a long time ago.

The sight of the Blades rediscovering their mojo was a treat to see. The trick for Wilder and his players is somehow sustaining it.

With the pressure off in some respects after finally ensuring that they will avoid the total ignominy of going through an entire league season without a win to their name, they have the platform to express themselves and see what happens.

A proud group of players, the Blades contingent had a few chats among themselves before the Cup trip to the Memorial Stadium – where their season would have reached a new nadir had they lost at League One Rovers. It helped focus minds.

Progression in the West Country was the first step, with the positivity taken into Tuesday as the Blades showed noticeable signs of rediscovering their old selves.

Osborn, who made an impressive full Premier League debut for the Blades against tomorrow’s visitors Spurs on a memorable Bramall Lane occasion on football’s resumption last July when the hosts triumphed 3-1, added: “Before the Bristol game, it was highlighted and we all agreed and we know what our identity is.

“It hurt us that we had kind of come away from it and lost it. It was a bit of a wake-up call and the first signs of what we are about were at Bristol.

“Tuesday was really enjoyable to play in. It is strange – the only other time I have been on a bad run, you get out of it by playing pretty rubbish, but you are solid and keep a 0-0 or nick a 1-0 when your backs are against the wall.

“We had a fair few chances against Newcastle and got a little bit of luck at the end, but played well. I thought we dominated and saw it out at the end.

“We have got to keep believing and fighting for each other.”

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