LIVERPOOL has its bootroom and West Ham the Cassettari Café.
Dave Kitson insisted English football boasts a new seat of learning after revealing Sheffield United’s bid for promotion is a regular topic of conversation in the lounge of Bramall Lane’s Copthorne Hotel. The former Reading and Portsmouth striker, whose 10th goal of the season helped ensure Danny Wilson’s side remained second in League One, is among several influential members of the former Northern Ireland international’s squad to call the four-star residence home.
And, after spearheading another ruthlessly efficient away performance which earned the respect of neutrals and Oldham Athletic’s coaching staff alike, he said: “There’s quite a large group of us living there and I definitely think that’s helped foster a healthy environment and strong camaraderie within the dressing room.
“We all go out
and I don’t think there’s a restaurant in the city we haven’t eaten in yet, but being in that situation has brought us closer together and helped us all to get along.
“Of course we talk about the games and our profession. But, as the same time, it’s also nice to chat about things that are completely different too.
“Danny Higginbotham, Tony McMahon, Barry Robson and myself all spend a lot of time there. Jamie Murphy did too but he’s got an apartment now and moved out.”
Murphy and Higginbotham were both absent at Boundary Park due to injury and illness respectively.
But their failure to make the team sheet did not prevent the visitors from recording their fifth win in six outings and fifth successive clean sheet. United, with Matt Hill recalled at full-back when Higginbotham was taken sick on the eve of the match, have now not conceded a goal in exactly eight hours of competition.
A statistic which, given the delicate balance of power towards the top of the division, pleased Kitson and his manager almost as much as the scoreline itself.
“That was a very thorough performance,” Kitson, who headed home after captain Michael Doyle had broken the deadlock, said.
“They tried to press us very hard but we knew they’d tire in the end and that we needed to exploit that. I thought Harry (Maguire) and Collo (Neill Collins) were fantastic out there.
“They’ve got some very good players, like striker Matt Smith
“But, when he did get possession more often than not it wasn’t in those dangerous pockets where people can cause you problems.”
Maguire and Collins, as Kitson insisted correctly, were massive.
They needed to be against opponents who, despite slipping back into the relegation zone following a three-match-winning streak, should have enough attacking talent at their disposal to ensure survival.
Smith forced a fine save from George Long who then foiled Lee Croft on the rebound while the inventive Jose Baxter proved an excellent foil for his robust teammate’s industry.
Oldham had a legitimate grievance when, soon after Doyle had forced home from close range, Hill impeded Robbie Simpson in the penalty area.
But, as their caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk later acknowledged, United ultimately prevailed partly because of their ability to do “the ugly things well”.
“If they don’t go up then there’s something wrong,” Philliskirk, revealing first-choice goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis had been omitted “because of an internal issue”, said. “They are the most efficient team in the division with a real smattering of experience.
“They play winning football. They take no chances. We did and we conceded.
“We’ve been very strong lately, especially in terms of our set-piece deliveries, but those were poor out there which isn’t like us.
“I don’t want to say too much but how the referee hasn’t given us a penalty for the incident with Simpson I really don’t know.
“But I will be flabbergasted if they don’t go up.”
With only five points separating the leading six teams, it is still far from certain who will reach the Championship.
But, while many of their rivals begin to falter, United’s push continues to gather momentum.
Doyle pounced when Dominic Poleon seized upon James Tarkowski’s error and forced Bouzanis’ deputy, Alex Cisak, to parry before Kitson converted a towering header from McMahon’s free-kick.
“Nothing had really been falling for me before that,” Kitson said. “I’d spent the majority of the afternoon trying to wrestle my head out of their central defender’s hands but fortunately everything worked out in the end.
“The main thing is that we got the result we wanted and now we are going to try and drive from the front.
“We’re definitely good enough to do that. So we’ve got to try and make sure that’s what happens.”