Sheffield United: Some players are more equal than others

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IT takes a long time to build but is remarkably quick to break.

I’m talking, of course, about confidence. And, there can be little doubt, that Sheffield United are suffering from a dearth at present.

Those searching for reasons behind the League One club’s chequered form should look no further in their quest for answers.

Five weeks ago, United were sitting pretty at the summit of the table. Now, as they prepare to host Coventry City this evening, they are sixth. With only a solitary win - in the FA Cup - to their name since Boxing Day and knowing that failing to beat Mark Robins’ side could see them lose further ground on leaders Tranmere Rovers and their namesakes from Doncaster.

Nevertheless, a team which is capable of topping the rankings does not become terrible overnight. So why has United’s self-belief and sense of purpose dwindled?

Danny Wilson was in Rafa Benitez mode when he reeled-off a list of “facts” - including Bramall Lane’s gruesome pitch and debilitating injuries - before the recent visit to Notts County.

Managers, keen not to upset the delicate sensibilities of their charges and supporters, will tell you that all players are equal. Some, however, are more equal than others.

Gus Poyet, Wilson’s counterpart at Brighton and Hove Albion, acknowledged as much during a revealing newspaper interview.

“There are four or five a manager will play because you like them or you think they’re very important,” he said. “The rest - it’s up to them. If they play and train well, they’re in. If they are rubbish, they’re not.”

Fair to say that Neill Collins, Matt Hill and, given his performances before damaging knee ligaments, Shaun Miller featured in Wilson’s own untouchable quartet. Within less than a fortnight, he lost them all.

Collins, who returned to action at Reading six days ago, is particularly influential.

United have conceded 12 goals in his absence - an average of two per game - compared to 1.2 before. And, at the other end of the pitch, Collins is responsible for scoring more than 10 per cent of their league goals.

Not that United’s chequered results and form can not be blamed entirely on luck.

They have won 42.8 per cent of their league matches this season. With a staggering 91.6 per cent of those victories coming after scoring the first goal.

A statistic which lends weight to theories they need to develop a nasty streak.

Conditioning is not an issue - most of United’s efforts have come after the break - but concentration between the 70th and 80th minutes could be given this is the period when they concede the most. And, as was brutally exposed at the Madejski Stadium, chances must be taken when created. Irrespective of the opposition.

But, with 54 points still up for grabs, nothing has been decided in the race for Championship football.

United have shown themselves to be capable before. And, with some hard work and a fair wind, they can do so again.

*Twitter: JamesShield1