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White Rose Kings: Big-game mentality key to Sheffield United’s Yorkshire derby success

John Lundstram celebrates scoring the second goal against QPR. (Picture:: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
John Lundstram celebrates scoring the second goal against QPR. (Picture:: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
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HULL CITY supporters may want to look away now.

Having succumbed to one Yorkshire club in Middlesbrough already this week, Nigel Adkins’ Tigers will tomorrow face the county’s undisputed derby kings of recent years.

Sheffield United head to the East Riding buoyed by having won 12 and lost just one of their last 19 league meetings with White Rose opposition.

Five of their last six have been won, including a 4-1 triumph over the Tigers at Bramall Lane, to leave John Lundstram admitting Chris Wilder’s men are ready to perform once again on the derby stage.

“We have put two (back-to-back league) wins together and a positive result at Hull will go a long way to helping us,” said the 24-year-old Liverpudlian, fresh from scoring what proved to be the winner in Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers.

“Three games in a week is not easy but we go to Hull with the same effort and commitment. We will be confident. Our record in derbies is decent. Up to now, anyway.

Leon Clarke scored four goals as derby kings Sheffield United swept aside Hull City in November. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Leon Clarke scored four goals as derby kings Sheffield United swept aside Hull City in November. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

“That sort of record shows we turn up for the big games. In a lot of the big ones this season, we have done well and that gives us massive confidence going into Friday.”

United’s derby dominance began in November, 2014. A 1-0 home defeat to Barnsley, Sam Winnall netting the winner, was a disappointing way to start the month but the Blades responded with a victory at Doncaster Rovers in their very next league outing.

That win at the Keepmoat began a hugely impressive run, the only blot on which is August’s 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough.

Otherwise, United have had the Indian sign over their Yorkshire neighbours. Adkins, who will be in the Hull dugout tomorrow night, oversaw six of those unbeaten derby clashes but it is perhaps this season when the run has become that bit more impressive due to it coming in the Championship.

That sort of record shows we turn up for the big games. In a lot of the big ones this season, we have done well and that gives us massive confidence going into Friday.

John Lundstram

Ask a United fan his or her personal highlight and chances are the 4-2 derby demolition of Steel City rivals Wednesday at Hillsborough will be the response.

But a double over Leeds United is not to be sniffed at. Nor is the clinical manner in which Leon Clarke took Hull apart in November as Leonid Slutsky’s reign started to unravel horribly.

The striker, second in the Championship’s scoring charts, netted all four goals as Wilder’s men ran amok in the second half and a repeat tomorrow will mean a return to the top six.

“Tuesday (against QPR) was an important win,” added Lundstram, the summer signing from Oxford United. “We now have 14 games to go after starting a bit of a mini-run. We just want to keep it going.

Sheffield United's derby record (Graphic: Graeme Bandeira)

Sheffield United's derby record (Graphic: Graeme Bandeira)

“If we can get in those play-offs, you never know what can happen. So, we just need to keep building these points up, allowing us to creep up the league.

“The lads were great against Leeds. It wasn’t our best performance then against QPR but we ground out the win.

“There were twists and turns. We knew it would be a tough game. Down at their place (when United lost 1-0), it was a hard game.

“We knew they would come to Bramall Lane and do the same, get the ball up to Matt Smith and try to smother us. It meant we couldn’t quite get the flow of the game going.

“At 2-0, we looked okay and comfortable. But then we shot ourselves in the foot with the goal. Jamal (Blackman, United’s goalkeeper) had not had much to do but then they went and scored (though Luke Freeman).

“It was disappointing but we could still walk away happy. No-one is going to look back in May and say we didn’t play well. We got the three points, that is what mattered.”

The value of Lundstram netting what ultimately proved to be the decisive goal can be seen in a league standing of seventh, just a point behind Bristol City in the final play-offs place.

Had Tuesday’s clash finished all square, the Blades would be tenth – such is the concertinaed state of the table at the moment.

United’s challenge tomorrow is to deepen the misery surrounding Hull, who only put tickets on general sale last Friday amid fears disaffected supporters are planning a protest against the club’s owners.

The last televised game at the KCOM, October’s 3-2 defeat against Nottingham Forest, saw the game stopped at 19:04 – the time chosen to reflect the year of City’s formation – by hundreds of yellow balls being thrown on to the field.

Play was held-up for several minutes and vice chairman Ehab Allam warned last week that a repeat could lead to, “the abandonment of the match, sanctions or fines to the club or games being played behind closed doors”.

For United, any protests will be a sideshow to their target of claiming the victory required to return to the top six.

“Coming through tests like that (Tuesday’s 2-1 win) can help us in the long run,” said Lundstram. “We showed character. There are times when we have played well this season but not won.

“The difference against QPR is we didn’t play well but won. That has to be a positive going forward. We are fighting.

“I think you can see the spirit in the squad. We are an incredibly tight group of players and that shines through. We were all round each other at the end, that spirit will take us a long way.”