Few will care to admit it but at the beginning of the season, when Chris Wilder vowed Sheffield United would attack the Championship, there was no shortage of people who thought he was at best naive and at worst completely mad.
The general consensus among football folk is that promoted teams, especially those without a huge transfer warchest, should adopt a cautious approach as they acclimatise to the division.
Doff their metaphorical caps to its established clubs. Meekly accept the status quo.
United, as their manager made absolutely clear, planned to do things differently. Which, as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Millwall third in the table, Enda Stevens believes was a stroke of genius.
“I’m told not much has changed,” the wing-back said. “And, you’ve got to say, that was the right thing to do. If you’ve got a way of working, a way that suits everybody and brings the best out of them, then why would you change it? Especially when it’s helped bring you success.”
Although Stevens did not arrive at Bramall Lane until after the League One title had been secured and celebrated, the former Portsmouth defender has emerged as a key figure in Wilder’s squad this term. Forcing his way into the starting eleven has been no mean feat given United’s determination to stick to tried and tested methods extends to their team selections too. Until Paul Coutts’ sustained a serious injury at Burton Albion earlier this month, eight of Wilder’s first choice picks were veterans of last season’s history-making campaign.
“From the first time I trained here, I knew this was a really good side,” Stevens acknowledged. “You could just tell. I remember thinking after one session: ‘I’m going to have to get up to speed here as quickly as possible or I’m going to get left behind.’ I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to be such a big step up.”
Despite being active in the transfer market - signing over 20 players and either selling or releasing the same number since taking charge 18 months ago - continuity has been a hallmark of Wilder’s regime. That, according to Stevens, has enabled the likes of Mark Duffy maintain and even improve their form.
“What Duffs has done is take his form from last season into this one, which is what a lot of the lads have done,” he said. “Obviously, I wasn’t here last season but I don’t think too much has changed in terms of how the team plays. If the quality is there, then it’s all about trying to keep that momentum going.”
Stevens, aged 27, is expected to make his 19th appearance for United when they travel to London this weekend. After helping Portsmouth gain promotion from League Two before heading north, the Irishman said: “There’s a lot of experience in this squad and a lot of ability so I’m not surprised as we believe in ourselves.”