HAVING subscribed to the theory that football is a simple game complicated by smart alecks, Sheffield United entered this fixture vowing to put their faith in talent rather than elaborate tactics and sophisticated plans.
The reasons behind their success were as simple as Danny Wilson’s pre-match instructions. The former Northern Ireland international’s team were Colchester’s superiors in every department. Including, most tellingly, power and physique.
“League One is a battlefield,” Wilson, whose side move second ahead of Saturday’s meeting with leaders AFC Bournemouth, said. “You’ve got to be able to stand toe to toe and be ready to roll up your sleeves and get in there.
“No matter how good you are, you’ve got to be ready to scrap and fight.”
United, who head to Dorset having won their last three games, were certainly impressive.
Nevertheless, this performance, against opponents battling for their lives at the other end of the table, was not without its flaws.
Having taken an early lead courtesy of Barry Robson’s penalty, United were forced to wait until the closing stages of the contest before effectively putting it to bed when Kevin McDonald scored his first of the season and Dave Kitson converted from close range following substitute Diego De Girolamo’s precocious cameo.
Colchester, as manager Joe Dunne later acknowledged, contributed to an absorbing first half, with Freddie Sears, the former West Ham centre-forward, posing a threat with his direct running and pace.
Just over a week ago, United were being dismissed as a busted flush after a series of disappointing displays and results. But, assessing the options now at his disposal, including the recent arrival of Dominic Poleon on loan, following recent victories over Shrewsbury Town and Bury, Wilson insisted they are right back in the mix.
“If you look at some of the teams around us in the table, with all due respect some of them weren’t really fancied to do as well when we all started out,” he said. “Everyone towards the top is there on merit, they’re all good sides. But, looking in from the outside, perhaps some of them were just enjoying themselves as they went along because of that.
“You can’t have that attitude now. When you get to this stage everyone is only too aware of what’s on offer and at stake.
“We’ve been under that kind of pressure all the time. It’s nothing new to us because, at
this football club, it comes with the territory and is part of the job.
“You’ve got to be able to last the course. I’ve heard lots of people saying ‘you aren’t going to do this or you aren’t going to do that’ way back in January and it doesn’t count for anything.
“It’s what you do over the entire duration that counts. You’ve got to be consistent.”
“We’ve got some of the experienced players back from injury and, looking back, when they were out it hurt us,” Wilson added. “They’re the ones who have been there, seen it and done it before. But the young players around them have that ‘no fear’ attitude as well. So there’s a nice kind of balance.”
One of United’s most seasoned campaigners was responsible for drawing the foul which propelled them into a third minute lead.
Robson took up the optimum position from Ryan Flynn’s cross and subsequently converted from the spot after being felled by Josh Thompson.
Dunne, admitting he had “no complaints” about the referee’s decision, will have been relieved to see Colchester’s captain not concede another following an equally rash challenge on Jamie Murphy.
Michael Doyle, who struck a post during the closing stages of the opening period, saw a looping effort gathered by Sam Walker while Kitson had an effort incorrectly ruled out for offside. “I can see why the penalty was given,” Dunne said.Lacking United’s leadership, Colchester unravelled when McDonald’s low drive beat Walker from long distance.
Wilson, having earlier introduced Poleon, was delighted too see Kitson finally get his reward for another combative shift when the Colchester goalkeeper could only parry De Girolamo’s effort following more fine work from McMahon.
“We’ve just got to keep plugging away and embracing the pressure,” Wilson said.
“My lads have shown they can actually enjoy and thrive on it at times.
*Heroes: Barry Robson, Dave Kitson, Tony McMahon and Ryan Flynn all impressed but this was another fine all-round team performance from Danny Wilson’s side, with Danny Higginbotham making several excellent interceptions at the back and Michael Doyle and Kevin McDonald also dovetailing well in midfield.
*Key moment: Barry Robson settled Sheffield United’s nerves when he converted in emphatic fashion from the penalty spot during the opening exchanges of this match. But, despite being in control for long periods, it was not until Kevin McDonald claimed his first goal of the season that the home side effectively sealed all three points.
*Remember this: Will Dave Kitson ever get a fair deal from officials? The Sheffield United striker once again found himself on the receiving end of some over-zealous challenges from opponents which went unpunished. But, once again, the whistle blew whenever Kitson decided ‘to give a little bit back’. But his patience was rewarded with a late strike.
*Viewpoint: Sheffield United looked as if they enjoyed themselves on Saturday afternoon. Despite, it must be pointed out, the pressure of knowing they had previously suffered three successive defeats on home soil. Danny Wilson has spoken of a change in mind-set behind the scenes and there was certainly evidence of that here. Played with a lot of freedom.