Nigel Adkins is fond of referencing ‘The Art of War’ when explaining his approach to games.
But the inspiration behind this victory, which lifted Sheffield United to second in the table, was not Sun Tzu’s ancient military treatise
Instead, captain Jay McEveley revealed afterwards, the strategy which condemned Swindon Town to their first defeat of the League One season was shaped by an obscure YouTube clip entitled ‘The Wisdom of Geese’.
“The manager always does a session where we study the opposition, McEveley said. “And halfway through it on Thursday this film started about geese. He likes to use videos and motivational speeches, stuff like that, with a different theme every week.
“It was strange and, yes, there was a bit of banter, but it was also interesting and relevant. It was all about why the geese fly in formation and what they achieve by working together as a group.
“That’s what we had to do here because we knew Swindon would see a lot of possession. And, on top of that, it’s a nice change from bibs, balls and cones.”
McEveley is expertly qualified to judge the different between Adkins’ United team and the one which bowed out of the play-offs here only three months ago.
The goalscorers were familiar - Neill Collins and Billy Sharp both on target for the second time this term - but the game-plan was foreign, to say the least.
Rather than attempt to overwhelm their opponents with wave after wave of penetrative attacks, United smothered Mark Cooper’s side in a more pragmatic but no less effective way.
Rather than a keen understanding of ornithology, their greatest strength is a tactical blueprint capable of being tweaked and teased as situations demand.
“I don’t really like comparing,” McEveley, a veteran of that 7-6 aggregate defeat, said. “But with the new management team and new players, each game is different.
“Each game there’s a different philosophy and plan about what we are going to do. You’ve got to give Swindon respect, but we executed it perfectly out there, I thought.
“You’ve got to be like that, to be able to change things. The coaching staff are great at coming up with different shapes and different ways of playing depending upon the circumstances.
“The manager has a great track record of getting teams up out of this league so he knows what he’s doing. That’s one reason why we’ve all really bought into it.”
Another is results. United have now won all four of their matches in the competition since losing on the opening day at Gillingham and kept three clean sheets.
“The defending starts from the front,” McEveley said. “The work Conor (Sammon) and Billy put in especially is something else.
“It goes unseen, I think, a lot of the time, the shifts they and the two wide players put in.
“Che (Adams) has probably done more running in one game than in his career. I keep screaming at him and I’m sure he probably thinks ‘just shut up, please’ but it’s only because I want him to stay on the case and working hard.”
Despite the final outcome, which Cooper felt was “slightly harsh” on his “young and inexperienced” squad, United remain a work in progress.
Louis Reed and Chris Basham were outstanding but, with Jose Baxter suspended and James Wallace nursing a muscle strain, are the only recognised central midfielders at Adkins’ disposal ahead of tomorrow’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Hartlepool.
United will attempt to address that particular issue before the transfer window closes, with their manager confirming “conversations are ongoing” with at least one potential target.
Swindon, with Nathan Byrne and Fabian Robert combining well, made some early inroads before being squeezed out of their rhythm.
Sharp and Sammon, who hit the crossbar soon after the interval, were busy whenever Lawrence Vigouroux’s rearguard had the ball while Basham and Reed were tenacious in the tackle and intelligent in possession.
“The video was just a different stimulation when we were talking about shape and, whether you like it or not, it planted a seed,” Adkins said.
“But the biggest thing is well done to the players.
“They are working so hard on the training ground and are an honest bunch who want to do well. I like the way Swindon go about things and we had to be disciplined. We couldn’t be open.”
United’s persistence paid-off when Collins headed Reed’s corner past Vigouroux, who appeared to be impeded by a colleague, before Sharp, using Sammon’s run as a decoy, latched on to substitute Martyn Woolford’s pass and slid home beyond the Chilean.
McEveley, who joined United following a two-year spell at the County Ground, said: “I always had a good rapport with the fans here and I wish Swindon all the best. But it’s all about us and what we want to do here. We want to go up and displays like this can only stand us in good stead.”
Swindon Town: Vigouroux 6, Robert 7, Williams 6, Turnbull 6, Traore 7, Kasim 6, Smith 5 (Storey 67, 5), Byrne 7, Stewart 6, Rodgers 6, Rossi-Branco 6. Not used: Belford, Brophy, Randall, Marshall, Barry, Iandolo.
Sheffield United: Howard 6, Freeman 8, Basham 8, Sharp 7, Collins 7, Sammon 7 (Higdon 90), McEveley 7, Campbell-Ryce 7 (Alcock 88), Reed 8, Adams 6 (Woolford 60), Edgar 7. Not used: Long, McNulty, McFadzean, McGahey.
Referee: Christopher Sarginson (Staffs).