Johan Cruyff once insisted that “playing football is very simple but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
Matt Done wishes Sheffield United had taken the late, great Dutchman’s advice last season as, during the dying embers of Nigel Adkins’ reign, he found himself shunted all across the pitch as the club continued its fruitless search for success.
Four months and one change at the helm later, things have changed. Chris Wilder’s decree that centre-forwards are centre-forwards, not midfielders or wing-backs, could hardly be described as revolutionary thinking. But Done, who spent much of the previous campaign tasked with stopping rather than scoring goals, believes it is a piece of Cruyff-like genius.
“I came here as a striker and that’s where I want to play. So credit to the gaffer for putting me back at the top end of the pitch. The previous manager played me where he wanted and that’s fair enough, it was up to him. But, now I’ve got that shirt back, I want to keep it. I want to show why I was brought here by scoring goals and repaying that faith.”
Done celebrated his return to attacking duties by hitting the target for the first time in 28 outings during United’s victory over AFC Wimbledon last weekend. Tomorrow, when they hope to secure a fourth straight League One win by beating Peterborough at Bramall Lane, he is expected to be again tasked with spearheading Wilder’s attack alongside captain Billy Sharp. Done never publicly criticised Adkins’ belief that he was a defender despite, when the subject arose during interviews, clearly struggling to convince himself. But, speaking ahead of the meeting with Grant McCann’s side, admitted that he and Wilder are a better ideological fit.
“That was the old regime, it’s been and gone now. The new regime is all about getting after the ball and making life hard for defenders. Which, to be fair, are two of my strongest attributes. They want us to run about, make it hard for the opposition and put our bodies on the line. That is exactly what League One is all about. The teams with the strongest characters, like we showed last week, tend to win.”
Wilder, who cut his managerial teeth in non-league before winning promotions with both Oxford and Northampton Town, identified a weakness in United’s psychological armoury after taking charge in May. When they failed to win any of their first five outings since parting company with Adkins, some commentators began questioning the 48-year-old’s no-holds-barred approach. Wilder, though, stuck to his guns. Refused to compromise and, having overcome Oxford and Gillingham en route to Kingsmeadow, Done revealed United’s squad are mighty glad he did.
“We had a meeting before going down there (Wimbledon) and the coaching staff really drummed it into us that, after two good results, we couldn’t just slip up. They told us ‘the season really does start here.’ That’s because, for games in front of 20,000 people, you don’t need to get psyched up. It takes care of itself in that regard. But, at places like Wimbledon, where it’s a tight pitch, a small ground and the fans are right on top of you, that’s what you’ve got to do. And we did. The standard of play in training is really, really good. If you’ve got that blend of confidence, ability and lads who are willing to roll-up their sleeves and do the dirty work then it will stand you in good stead.”
Having joined United from Rochdale in February last year, Done is perfectly placed to draw comparisons between Wilder’s team and those constructed by predecessors Adkins and Nigel Clough. Although the former Barnsley, Wrexham and Hibernian attacker was a key figure in the team Clough led into the play-offs before being sacked 16 months ago, the 2015/16 campaign, which saw United finish 11th, proved a more disheartening experience.
“We’ve got a lot of knowledge and nous in the team now,” Done said. “Lads who know the league. It’s difficult but sometimes you can make too much about what it takes to get out. If you’ve got an honest bunch who are willing to sacrifice themselves for their team mates and the club, the you’ll give yourself a good chance. I think that’s what we’ve got now. There’s knowledge and a hunger in the group.
Wilder made 12 new signings, including loanees Daniel Lafferty and Ethan Ebanks-Landell, during the recent transfer window while Caolan Lavery, previously of Sheffield Wednesday, is poised to make his competitive debut against Peterborough.
“The recruitment, I think, is key with that,” Done added. “Maybe you can learn it, that hunger, but I think it’s either in you or its not. Harry (Chapman) has come here from a Premier League club and he can learn it. The same goes for Ben (Whiteman) and the rest of the younger lads who are coming through. The gaffer has brought in lads he feels he can trust and all of us want to repay him. I’ll always run my n***s off to try and do that.”
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