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Sheffield United: This is what Mark Duffy did to cement his starting place and what Ben Woodburn must do to force his way in

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is pleased with Mark Duffy's work rate
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is pleased with Mark Duffy's work rate

Five days ago, during the early skirmishes of what became a tumultuous battle with Millwall, Mark Duffy did something which brought a smile to Chris Wilder's face.

The Sheffield United midfielder had already turned nonchalantly away from a defender before instigating an attack and troubled the opposition with his movement off the ball.

But what really pleased his manager, more than the delicate touches or perfectly choreographed feints, was the sight of Duffy tracking back whenever United surrendered possession and helping win back the ball.

"I thought Mark was exceptional," Wilder said earlier this week. "I think that was one of his best all-round performances for us. 

"Everybody knows what he does, how he knits the play together. But I've told him we can't play with 10 when we're out of possession. He realises that and he's worked on it."

One of Wilder's first signings after being appointed in the summer of 2016, the fact Duffy remains a near permanent fixture in his starting eleven is testament to both the player's skills and versatility. Those qualities, combined with a ruthless determination and sense of the prevailing tactical wind, have enabled Duffy to fend-off competition from the likes of Ricky Holmes and Ben Woodburn, who were both recruited to challenge for his place.

Ben Woodburn will hope to feature against Hull City

Ben Woodburn will hope to feature against Hull City

By praising the 32-year-old's contribution at The Den, Wilder both reminded Duffy about what he must do to retain his status as United's first-choice 'Number 10' and provided Woodburn with a road map towards greater opportunities. The Wales international, on loan from Liverpool, has started only two games since leaving Anfield during the close season and failed to make the squad for yesterday's visit to Blackburn Rovers.

"We don't attack with one two or three," Wilder continued. "We don't defend with six or seven. We attack with everybody and defend with everybody. Duffy has a big part to play in that. All of the lads do in fact."

After beating Neil Harris' side 3-2 in the capital, United climbed to third in the Championship table following their 2-0 win at Ewood Park. With the international break looming on the horizon, Wilder could once again decide against making wholesale changes although Woodburn will at least hope to make a return to the bench.

"We need people pushing,"Wilder added. "We need that competition across the squad so no one, no matter what they are doing, feels totally comfortable."

Mark Duffy is working hard on and off the ball

Mark Duffy is working hard on and off the ball