Tuesday 17 September 2019

Egan keeping calm amid Blades' promotion hype

John Egan. Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
John Egan. Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Alex Pattle

It is almost exactly 12 years since Sheffield United last competed in the Premier League. On May 13, 2007, the final day of the season, the Blades were scythed down by Wigan and cut from England's top flight on goal difference.

Relegation was bad enough, but to compound their agony United fell at the expense of West Ham, who survived thanks to a win at Manchester United, sealed by a goal from Carlos Tevez whose transfer to east London had broken Premier League rules regarding third-party ownership. Sheffield United won compensation two years later, but the damage had already been done.

The club have split the 12 years since that season evenly between the Championship and League One, and there have been moments when a return to the Premier League must have seemed a pipe dream.

Yet now, under the guidance of Chris Wilder, a lifelong fan and former player, glory is within their reach again: victory today against an already-relegated Ipswich Town would all but guarantee promotion, given their goal difference is significantly superior to nearest rivals Leeds United.

Wilder has been doing his best to contain his squad's emotions at the club's Firshill Crescent training base, but the closer the prize gets, the harder that has become.

"We're probably thinking about promotion a bit more, the closer you get, but I think in terms of coming in here and being around the lads, we're just going about our business the same way," said defender John Egan.

"Obviously, there's outside influences, people might be getting in your ear, but we know there's a job to do.

"In this league, one minute you're up, the next minute you're down. You've got to try and stay as level-headed as possible, because there's twists and turns. The whole changing room knows what's at stake."

Despite stressing the need to stay calm, it was Egan who received a straight red card this month when he prevented Millwall from scoring by handling the ball on the goal-line.

The centre-back, who plays alongside fellow Ireland internationals Enda Stevens, David McGoldrick and Scott Hogan (loan from Aston Villa) for the Blades, deemed the act "instinctive", and it may well reveal something about the squad's quiet but intense desire to secure Premier League football.

United are not giving the impression of a side choking under the pressure, though.

They have negotiated their past two games - against Nottingham Forest and Hull City - with minimum fuss, and could even finish the season as champions, should leaders Norwich City drop points in their remaining two fixtures.

Their success has been built on a simple but clinical game-plan: a ruthlessly efficient defence, which has leaked fewer goals in their past 20 league games than any other side in Europe bar Manchester City and Atletico Madrid.

"We have a unique system," Egan added. "It brought the lads success before I was here, and we've managed to carry it on and keep a unique way of playing, which is hard to play against. I know first hand from last season, when I played for Brentford against them."


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