Kieron Freeman, it’s fair to say, isn’t the most demonstrative interviewee among Nigel Clough’s first team squad, writes James Shield.
But ask about the power of Bramall Lane’s crowd and the Sheffield United defender becomes unusually animated.
“It’s difficult to describe or put into words but, yes, the fans can be a massive help. Just the buzz you get when they’re right behind you really can help to decide whether you win, lose or draw.
“When there’s two minutes left and everybody is absolutely knackered, on their last legs, the noise it creates helps you find that extra bit of energy that could make a difference to the game.”
United will attempt to harness that power as they approach the finishing straight of a League One season where, with only 10 points separating second from fifth in the table, the margins for error remain slim.
Tomorrow, against Crawley Town, Clough’s players know that any false step could deal a huge blow to the club’s hopes of forcing itself into the automatic promotion places after Tuesday’s win Rochdale saw them move seven ahead of sixth-placed Bradford City.
Freeman used last weekend’s draw with Coventry City, which saw United score two late goals despite being at a numerical disadvantage for most of the contest, to illustrate his point:
“The fans were a big part of what happened. We were losing 2-0 and when we got a goal back the volume got cranked-up and dragged us along.
“Because of our following, that can happen at home or away.
“Coventry tried to pass all the way through. Then, when the atmosphere changed, they stopped.”
Richard Cresswell, who made 141 United appearances between 2009 and 2013 shed further light on the influence of United’s support.
“The good thing about Blades fans,” Cresswell, now head of football operations at York City, said, “Is that they don’t forget. I had to win them around but, when I did, that bond became even stronger.
“I’d played for Sheffield Wednesday about a decade earlier and also Leeds so I knew I’d get a few comments. But when I came on for my debut as a sub I got absolutely roasted from the crowd.
“You have to be a strong character to take that, especially when it’s your first game, but fortunately I’ve got skin like steel.
“I started the next one, against Doncaster, and broke my rib as I scored at the far post. I wanted to celebrate to show how much it meant to me but I had to drag myself up because I was in bloody agony.
“I stayed on as well for exactly the same reason even though I knew what I’d done and it was difficult to breathe properly.”
“Blades fans are from the same working class background as me,” Cresswell added. “We’re the same people.
“Yes, they want to see quality players. But, even more, they want to see blood and sweat from those players too. Players who, no matter what, will give everything. It’s not a cliché. It’s true.”
Despite its mission creep, not every aspect of football can be influenced by science or state-of-the-art training methods.
“The best example of how a crowd can make a difference is when you’re losing, equalise and the roof just comes off,” Cresswell said. “It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and that’s the truth.
“Also, look at the subs in those situations. If you’re 3-0 down, none of them will be warming-up whereas, get that equaliser, and they’re all off the bench because they feel they can make a difference.
“The psychology becomes completely positive. Everybody wants to be involved.”
Freeman returned to United from Derby County earlier this year following a loan spell last term. The former Wales under-21 international, who has made five outings since, is convinced the backing Clough’s side enjoys can add promotion to his United CV.
“I really do think it gives us an advantage,” Freeman said. “No disrespect to some other clubs I’ve been at but, when you get 20,000 coming to watch you, it’s a massive help.”