Having started his career with Rangers, John Fleck understands the anatomy of a title winning team.
So, when the Sheffield United midfielder insisted Chris Wilder’s squad possess the talent and the temperament required to challenge for honours, it augers well for the future at Bramall Lane
Chesterfield, despite remaining bottom of the League One table after being overwhelmed during a one-sided second-half, should take comfort from the fact the visitors were forced to show both before stretching their unbeaten run in the competition to 12 games.
“When you are playing for a big club like this, you need a winning mentality,” Fleck, who claimed a goal and an assist as United climbed to third, said. “Obviously the manager has got that and the boys have too.
“We’ve just got to keep ticking along, taking it a match at a time and see where that takes us. Things are going well at the moment but nobody here is getting complacent or carried away.”
There was certainly no danger of that when Jon Nolan fired Chesterfield into an early but deserved lead. The 24-year-old, combining well with former United centre-forward Ched Evans, fired a vicious shot into the roof of Simon Moore’s net before Daniel Lafferty and Matt Done both went close. Despite those opportunities, United struggled to build any momentum until the closing stages of the first-half.
But, after surviving a huge scare when Chesterfield’s Ian Evatt hit the crossbar following Jay O’Shea’s corner, they took full advantage of that reprieve. Kieron Freeman headed home Fleck’s centre to level before the Scot, delivering another accomplished performance alongside Paul Coutts, scored for the first time since joining United from Coventry City during the close season.
Chesterfield, who lost Evans and Nolan to injury, had barely caught breath when Billy Sharp sealed their fate after meeting Mark Duffy’s perfectly weighted cross. Substitute Leon Clarke confirmed his recovery from a long-standing ankle problem by dispatching a superb finish beyond Ryan Fulton as United moved to within a point of second-placed Bradford City with a game in hand.
“It was a poor start from us,” Fleck said. “But we turned it around.”
Wilder spent the build-up to yesterday’s contest deflecting questions about whether Evans, playing against United for the first time since leaving South Yorkshire four years ago, would come back to haunt his old club.
After this brutal display of firepower, the United manager found himself wrestling with a different challenge afterwards; suppressing talk of promotion. Certainly, with 30 matches left to play, predictions that United will be competing at Championship level next season are dangerously premature. But, having scored 26 goals in their last seven outings, they do appear well equipped to push for a top two place.
Sharp, taking his tally for the campaign to 11, is ruthless. Clarke is clinical while Fleck grows in stature week by week. But, as he explained afterwards, United’s greatest strength is their conviction.
“There’s a lot of big personalities in the dressing room,” Fleck said. “Some really big players. There’s lads like Jake Wright, Sharpy and Leon telling the boys what to do.”
Evans scored 35 goals during his final season with United before being convicted of rape in 2012. Having been found not guilty following a retial last month, on this evidence he appears destined to rebuild his professional career too. Evans caused United’s defence plenty of problems before succumbing to an ankle problem, forcing Moore to make good reaction saves either side of Freeman’s strike. Chesterfield, who Wilder claimed are in a “false position”, must hope he is not sidelined for long.
the right attitude
United average 2.75 points per game since recording their first victory under Wilder three months ago. After dismantling Chesterfield, they are also now the highest scoring team away from home in English football this term. But, as Wilder and Fleck both acknowledged, fortunes can quickly change.
“A lot can happen yet,” Fleck said. “There are no days off as it were.”