Sheffield United: Chris Wilder's players must learn to keep up their guard
Darren Barker, the former world middleweight champion, tells a lovely story about what inspired him to win the IBF belt.
“I can still feel it now,” he said recently. “That feeling of agony. The thought of failing and letting everyone down. I was on the deck for less than 10 seconds but it seemed like an eternity and so many thoughts were going through my head. I saw my brother, I saw my daughter, like they were in there with me. Suddenly I thought: ‘I’m not going out like this.’ So I made it to my feet with a second to spare.”
Sheffield United have taken nowhere near as many punches as Barker soaked-up before dethroning Daniel Geale in Atlantic City 36 months ago. But, after dropping their guard in suicidal fashion against Southend three days ago, they must also pick themselves off the canvas at Millwall tomorrow to put what can still be a profitable season back on track.
Barker’s epiphany, his younger sibling Gary had died seven years earlier in a car accident, demonstrates the power of mind of matter. Which is good because United’s recent performances, not least against Phil Brown’s side, suggest the reasons behind their poor start to the season are more to do with grey matter than a lack of talent or graft.
How else can you explain the cataclysmic collapse which followed the visitors’ opener? Two mistakes, two more goals and less than 10 minutes later the game, quite simply, was over. With less than 15 minutes gone.
What United should have done, rather than forgetting their defensive obligations in the desperate search for an equaliser, was simply cover up until enough heads cleared to mount a cold, calculating response.
How best to improve his team’s thought process is something only manager Chris Wilder can answer.
But events during that match revealed some United fans face a similar question too.
The sight of George Long being booed, barracked and sarcastically cheered whenever he caught the ball by sections of the home support was, quite frankly, pathetic. Yes, his displays have been below par this season. Yes, there are areas of his game which need to improve. But subjecting the youngster to a public humiliation following a few mistakes is bang out of order. When you think the sight of Nile Ranger on the visitors’ team sheet did not generate so much as a murmur, it confirms football really is a moral vacuum.
Then again, why bother getting on the back of a guy whose charge sheet includes going AWOL from two clubs, publishing homophobic comments on social media and posing for photographs brandishing a replica firearm when you can take some long-range pops at a 22-year-old trying his best I suppose?
Admittedly, we all possess different values. Everyone is entitled to an opinion as well. So for what it’s worth, here’s mine: the most memorable moment of the evening was sound of the boo-boys being roundly booed themselves.