If Bolton Wanderers do park the bus at Bramall Lane today then George Baldock, the Sheffield United wing-back, believes it will be a hopeless exercise.
Because, in Mark Duffy, John Lundstram and the returning John Fleck, he is convinced Chris Wilder’s side possess three players capable of unpicking even the most well-drilled defence.
Reflecting on the 3-0 victory over Sunderland, which saw the visitors try and fail to smother United’s creative instincts, Baldock said: “If teams do sit back, then we’ve got a few little magicians up top to unlock them. There’s Lunny, Flecky who is available again now, and Duffs. I thought he was superb, brilliant in fact, last time out. We work on things like that during the week, looking at the right positions to get in. What happened in that match was probably the reward.”
The tactics Sunderland adopted, despite travelling to South Yorkshire in much-improved form, confirmed United are now viewed as a Championship scalp after building on last season’s League One title-winning campaign. Sixth in the table, above the likes of Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, they enter their final match of 2017 knowing a win would see them set a new club record for the most points accumulated in a calender year.
Regaining their top six place, after slipping to seventh following a chequered sequence of results, will only increase the temptation for visiting managers to sit deep and attempt to frustrate. Which, speaking at United’s pre-match press conference earlier this week, prompted Baldock to acknowledge that supporters also have a crucial role to play.
“The fans have turned out and been different class,” he admitted. “Against Sunderland, there were over 30,000 in and that made us even more determined to put on a show. We wanted to prove that we are back to our best, producing free-flowing football. The lads were just excited to get back out there and put things right. You can feel the crowd urging you on.”
Baldock and his fellow wing-back Enda Stevens also have an important function to perform when opponents defend the edge of their own box. Wilder’s preference for the 3-5-2 system means both must provide extra options in attack whenever Duffy, Lundstram or Fleck, who has now completed a three game suspension, find themselves on the ball.
“It’s a fine line between playing well and getting three points,” Baldock, who scored his first goal for United during Tuesday’s rout, explained. “I need to improve my celebration though. Seriously, it’s something we look at all the time in training; how to get into those areas.”
Bolton, who were also promoted automatically last term, arrive in 23rd but having recently beaten high-flying Cardiff City.
“We treat everyone with respect,” Baldock said. “Equally, we’re a confident bunch and, no matter what anyone else was thinking or saying at the start (of the season), we felt we could do well. But consistency is important and so we want to follow up one good result with another.”