Alan Biggs: Making a case for the defence as key part of Sheffield United's title push
You can't simply judge a defence on the number of goals it concedes. If you did, Sheffield United's rearguard would be only the fourth best in League One '“ when we know it crucially underpins THE best team.
Compare those 44 goals conceded with the 76 scored by the most prolific side in the section, which means the back line has to be extra vigilant to protect a naturally attacking outfit. Then consider that 12 of those 76 goals have actually been scored by members of the back three, including the five of the currently injured Ethan Ebanks-Landell.
Make that 24 if you throw in the wing backs, Daniel Lafferty and nine-goal Kieron Freeman.
Together, they’ve more than out-scored the brilliantly balanced and creative midfield trio of John Fleck, Paul Coutts and Mark Duffy, who are just in double figures collectively. But what it signifies above all is a team pulling together quite magnificently in relentlessly chasing down both promotion and the championship title.
It takes some doing to put a 26-goal marksman in the shade. But that’s exactly what happened in the nerveless 2-0 eclipse of Millwall on Tuesday as the Blades went 13 points clear of third place in a show of total conviction and self-belief. Billy Sharp actually put himself in the shade (of both touchlines) with as unselfish a channel-running performance as you could wish to see from a player chasing two more for 200 career goals.
Don’t expect a repeat too soon because getting in the box – where he would admit he never was in midweek – is Sharp’s stock in trade.
But it did speak of the captain overruling the striker and embodied the team ethic running throughout Chris Wilder’s side. I’ve never seen one more together.
But let’s go back to the front of the column. Take a bow Jack O’Connell, Jake Wright and Chris Basham, and, behind them, Simon Moore.
O’Connell is a colossus on the left of the trio, Basham a driving force on the other side and Wright immaculately tidy and compact in between. Wright is so quietly efficient that you are unlikely to hear another peep out of him publicly for as long as a simply extraordinary record stretches.
Whisper this for fear of tempting fate. He’s yet to be on the losing side in 26 appearances for United and, taking in his last six for Oxford, that’s an incredible run of 32 games unbeaten.
Talking of records, United will be only the fourth club in the English professional game (behind Preston, Wolves and Burnley) if they win League One to complete the clean sweep of topping all four leagues in their history.
And then there’s the manager. Wilder’s record across his last 64 league games (including League Two title winners Northampton last season) reads: 40 wins, 18 draws, six losses for a win ratio of 62.5 per cent.
This, let me tell you, is phenomenal stuff. One word and one word only to finish. Enjoy.