Matt Done is not happy.
Already troubled by his failure to translate graft into goals this season, he has just conceded a game of pool to Paul Coutts only for the Scotsman to foul on the black.
With the result deciding which player will be grilled by the press during Sheffield United’s latest pre-match media conference, Done has good reason to curse his luck. But, after batting away the predictable questions about near-misses and sliced shots, the centre-forward finds himself on more comfortable ground. Talking about the change of mentality which, following Chris Wilder’s appointment, has transformed a club guilty of sleepwalking through the previous 12 months into a genuine force this term.
“How we play is down to the manager and the players he has brought in,” Done says. “It suits everyone to be fair. We try and win the game in the first-half now, really try and put it to bed. That’s how the gaffer wants to play, that’s how I want to play and that’s how the rest of the lads want to play too. With the type of press we put on people, we can make it pretty tough.”
Wilder’s desire to chase, hustle and hassle opponents into submission explains why, despite his 14 match drought, Done remains his preferred partner for Billy Sharp. The 28-year-old might not be as prolific as United’s captain, who enters tomorrow’s game against Northampton Town having scored four times in only two games, but he is an absolute pest. Although Done acknowledges that creating space for others is not his primary function, it is no coincidence that nearly 95 per cent of Sharp’s goals have come when he is in the team.
“I’m getting frustrated that I haven’t scored more goals,” Done continues. “But the gaffer says I bring something different to the table when I don’t. I want to get on the scoresheet much more of course but, if you look at the wins we’ve had when I’ve played, I like to think I’ve been a small part of that. If Sharpy keeps on getting the goals and we get promoted then, gladly, I’ll play second fiddle to him. But I do want to get among them even more and I’m busting a gut to make sure that happens.”
Speaking before Monday’s victory over Oldham Athletic - a result which saw second-placed United move to within a point of leaders Scunthorpe - Done revealed how a series of pep-talks from Wilder has kept his self-belief intact. The emphasis on keeping things simple and playing to people’s strengths is another source of encouragement after Nigel Adkins’ more convoluted approach.
“I’m not going to talk about last season but it also suits to players who were already here,” Done says. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we’re also seeing much more from the lads who were already here too. It’s the way the whole club should be playing as well. I think the fans are appreciating it more too.”
Done, one of only five members of the squad which finished 11th under Adkins last season to start United’s fixture on Boxing Day, has scored twice in 24 outings so far this term. With Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke both impressing of late - the latter’s introduction against Athletic helping to change the course of a previously nip-and-tuck game - Wilder must decide whether or not to persevere with the former Rochdale striker ahead of a match which, if familiarity really does breed contempt, will be a tempestuous affair.
Northampton, 13th in the table, won the League Two title under Wilder last season. Alan Knill, his assistant at Bramall Lane and head of sports science Matt Prestridge, were also key figures at Sixfields. Wilder’s replacement, former United defender Robert Page, was close to taking charge at Bramall Lane three years ago and is still based in Sheffield.
With Scunthorpe visiting third-placed Bolton Wanderers tomorrow, Done acknowledges the outcome will have professional as well as personal significance.
“No matter where you are in the league, this is a vital period. We’d be lying if we said we hadn’t looked at the fixtures and the possible returns. But we’ll stick to the old cliché of taking every game as it comes. With two home games over Christmas, we’d like to think we can finish it by picking up a good tally.”