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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 24 February 2021

David Meyler: I remember visiting John in hospital after his leg break. His journey has been fantastic

Our weekly columnist believes Sheffield United will bounce back from a poor run of form, and tips Leeds United to claim another three points.

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler has joined The42 as our new football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action, alongside the latest William Hill prices. 

In his latest column, he examines whether Sheffield United are suffering from ‘second season syndrome’ and touches on Patrick Bamford’s remarkable start to life back in the top flight. 

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Sheffield United v Manchester City, 12.30pm Saturday

When Sheffield United earned automatic promotion in 2019, they brought a freshness to the Premier League. Their squad wasn’t full of top-flight experience but they had players who were hungry to prove themselves at the elite level.

While it was always going to be a challenge, they hit the ground running playing Chris Wilder’s unique brand of football.

Lining up with three centre-halves — John Egan in the middle of Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham – the gameplan is built on wing-backs Enda Stevens and George Baldock getting forward. That caught a lot of teams by surprise and the Blades boss deserves enormous credit for taking the club from the bottom of League One to a position where they were sitting among the European spots in fifth last December.

burnley-v-sheffield-united-premier-league-turf-moor The Blades' international team-mates Enda Stevens (left) and John Egan. Source: Clive Brunskill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

I remember facing them for Hull City in November 2017, the season before their promotion, and they played the exact same way. We were beaten 4-1 that day and simply couldn’t cope.

Of all the teams, the break in play due to the Covid-19 pandemic probably affected them most as they were flying high and wouldn’t have wanted the games to stop. Their form suffered from that point and results haven’t been great so far this term, as they’re winless and 19th in the league thanks to five defeats and one draw.

That second season is often a difficult one. The first time I got promoted with Hull back in 2013, we had a squad containing some lads who had played in the Premier League but who weren’t proven at that level. So we had a chip on our shoulder that we wanted to show every team we were good enough to be there, and that’s why we stayed up.

It’s probably harsh but fair to say, the following year you start to feel like you belong there and we may have taken our eye off the ball a little bit. We got relegated and that’s a real wake-up call. Hull had made signings, and while they were very good players, we had built a culture in the dressing room and a couple of lads didn’t buy into what we were about.

Wilder is a throwback and he would be quick to take them aside and say ‘Hold on a minute. If you’re not pulling your weight then you won’t be playing’, if that is the case.

As well as that, the element of surprise is now gone. Players become familiar with their playing style due to the amount of analysis that management teams do these days. They will acknowledge weaknesses and that’s only natural as you play each team at least twice over the course of a season, meaning they have had the opportunity to work Sheffield United out.

There are challenges for them, but I’m a big fan of Wilder and his players. I speak to the Irish lads there and it is the type of group that I would have relished playing with. When they were promoted, you saw the scenes with Egan singing and it seems like there’s a great bond between them.

The journey Egan has had to get here is fantastic. After joining Bradford City on loan from Sunderland, he broke his leg in 2012 and I remember going to visit him in hospital — telling him he would come back from it. After that, he moves to Gillingham and eventually finds his way to Sheffield United via Brentford. John would have had those moments wondering if he would ever make it to the Premier League but he has reached the promised land and doesn’t look one bit out of place for club or country.

Enda had been in the Premier League with Aston Villa and possibly thought he had cracked it straight away after arriving from Shamrock Rovers, but wound up at Portsmouth in League Two. He did really well and helped them earn promotion, which led to the opportunity at Sheffield United.

Any young player at a Premier League club should take note. There can be a reluctance to go down to play in League One or League Two because they might be thinking they’ll never get back to the top flight, but these lads are evidence that you can.

David McGoldrick had been a mainstay in the Championship with Ipswich Town and had a good goalscoring record in that division. But anyone who has watched Ireland or the Blades will know it’s his all-round game, the way he drops in and links up the play, that is his real strength.

I’ve often said I wish David McGoldrick could create for David McGoldrick. That might sound strange but he’s the one dropping into the pockets of space and slipping the through balls in, when it should be someone doing that for him to score.

There must have been times that all three have pinched themselves, but they have earned the right to call themselves Premier League footballers with their performances over the last 14 months. They have been outstanding.

It’s great to watch, it’s nice to know them personally and the main thing for me is that it’s a huge positive for Irish football.

Wilder appears to have a knack for bringing in good players who are also the right type of characters and I fully expect them to stay up. I don’t think they’ll finish as high as they did last year but I can see them being up around 12th place.

I watched them against Liverpool a week ago and felt they were very unlucky. They caused the champions fierce problems and on another day could’ve come away with something.

They will be looking to kickstart their season and that’s why I expect them to get a result against Manchester City on Saturday afternoon. I can see them picking up a draw but am torn between predicting 1-1 or 2-2.

Leeds United v Leicester City, 8pm Monday 

There were questions marks over whether Patrick Bamford would be able to score on a regular basis for Leeds United in the Premier League.

Prior to this season, he had bagged just one goal in English football’s top division in 27 appearances for Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Burnley and Middlesbrough. Remarkably, his hat-trick against Aston Villa made it six from six since his return.

It needs to be pointed out that those first 27 games amounted to just 667 minutes of football and the clubs he was playing for all finished in the bottom five in the campaigns he lined out for them.

Now, he’s got the faith of a top manager to play week in week out, knowing they will create chances for him, and so far he’s proven that he can find the back of the net. His three goals against Villa were incredible and he looks like a player high in confidence.

britain-soccer-premier-league Patrick Bamford takes home the match ball after his hat-trick against Aston Villa. Source: Nick Potts

Inevitably, some Ireland fans were calling for Stephen Kenny to reach out after his latest display, but it’s a tough one. I recently read Bamford saying he has a dream to play for England, so how do you then get him to declare for Ireland?

If I was manager of Ireland’s senior team, I’d pick up the phone and ask the question. I’d look for a straight yes or a no. Yes, and he’d be in the squad next month. No, and it would be ‘thanks and good luck’. Mick McCarthy made contact during his time and he didn’t come to play so you would imagine that’s that.

His Leeds team-mate Kalvin Philips is also around the England squad now so Bamford might still fancy himself to get a call-up even though it hasn’t happened at 27.

Leicester have been a bit up and down so far but, that said, they are fourth at this early stage. They picked up a good result against Arsenal but the impetus will change when they take on Leeds, who they will be expected to beat as they’re newly-promoted.

I can see Leeds catching them on the hop, so I’ll say 2-1 to Marcelo Bielsa’s men and Mateusz Klich to score.

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