By Alan Biggs
Some players are more influential than others and the facts are faithful to the eyes when it comes to Mark Duffy’s importance to Sheffield United in the run-in.
This column is not a great pursuer of statistics but undertook a study of the season in respect of United’s playmaker-in-chief after he proved the architect of both goals in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Burton.
It showed that Chris Wilder’s side have won only four of the 12 Championship games Duffy hasn’t started or missed – and in a couple of those victories (at home to Wolves and in the Hillsborough derby at Sheffield Wednesday) he was a catalyst from the bench.
Of the 25 league matches Duffy HAS started, the Blades have triumphed in 14 – a win percentage of 56%.
Emphatic evidence of the part he can play in the last nine games as United look to squeeze back into the top six against Nottingham Forest on Saturday. And it’s also a validation of Wilder’s decision not to risk him with a minor calf strain in the goalless draw at Ipswich ahead of the home double-header than can put United firmly back into the race. A fit Duffy and a fit-again David Brooks, scorer from the bench in midweek, are absolutely vital to the cause. If the Blades are to take their challenge to the wire the chances are that these two players, both genuine match-winners, will figure strongly.
Without one or both there has been a struggle to tip tight games, no matter how much possession and pressure is generated. With them it is a different ball game entirely.
On Tuesday United were labouring badly until Duffy cleverly engineered a sprayed pass to the right that forced a throw-in routine from which Enda Stevens fired home. Then, in the second half, he seized on a superb lay-off from Billy Sharp to send Brooks away with sliderule precision.
Those moments of quality, including Brooks’ clever run and finish, effectively decided a close contest. They are also what will make the difference between United making the top six and missing out. Right now the chasing game is very much back on.
Not that others aren’t contributing. There were times in midweek when the back three and impressive goalkeeper Jamal Blackman kept a side always committed to attack in the game. I thought, also, that Lee Evans, the January signing making the most sustained impact, was a consistent force in midfield.
The pieces are in place for Wilder’s men to provide a thrilling climax to the season.
Not for the first time I sign off with a warning not to bet against it.