Jamal Campbell-Ryce referenced Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea following this eventful derby against Chesterfield.
Which admittedly, given the circumstances and surroundings, at first sounded a little strange. But, unlike his Sheffield United colleagues, the former Jamaica international made a creditable point.
Yes, Campbell-Ryce insisted, Nigel Clough’s squad remain the team to beat in League One competition despite slipping to 11th in the table after a second defeat in 10 games. However, with that status comes responsibility. Which, having spent long periods of his career at less fashionable clubs, Campbell-Ryce knows only too well.
“Last season, when I was at Notts County, all the talk was about Sheffield United coming to our place,” Campbell-Ryce said. “That’s all people were talking about throughout the year.
“It was ‘beat Sheffield United this and beat Sheffield United’ that. On and on and on.
“This is a fantastic football club and it’s a badge of honour really. But, at the same time, it tells you how opponents are going to approach games against us.
“So we’ve got to be ready for that and be the force we really are.”
That United failed to oblige at the Proact Stadium, where both sides finished the match with 10 men, owed as much to six-placed Chesterfield’s spirited performance as it did their own lacklustre first-half display. Paul Cook, Clough’s counterpart across the technical area, has, over the course of two seasons, assembled a well-drilled, brutally efficient squad which went about its business with an incision which, until the closing stages, United lacked.
Referee Mark Brown and his two assistants, though, also contributed to the final outcome. Clough, who saw centre-forward Michael Higdon dismissed for a poor tackle on Daniel Jones, expressed grave reservations about their interpretation of three key incidents afterwards. Video replays suggested his fury was not misplaced.
Nevertheless Campbell-Ryce, whose introduction as a second-half substitute equipped United with a much-needed cutting edge, acknowledged: “We are Sheffield United. Everyone wants to beat us.
“We’ve got to learn how to handle that and how to combat it. We need to take it out on teams by footballing them to death.
“All the best teams in the world are the hardest workers. Look at Bayern Munich and how quickly they want to win the ball back. Barcelona too.
“Because they want the ball so much, when they haven’t got it, they put so much in to getting it back. Jose Mourinho’s teams are the same because they work their nuts off to put you under pressure when they’re not in possession. We’ve got to learn from that and follow suit.”
“There’s disappointment, anger and frustration in the dressing room right now,” he added. “All of the wrong emotions but that’s what happens when you lose games like this. Don’t worry, though, we’ll make it right.”
United, with Craig Alcock making a superb intervention to deny Daniel Johnson, were beginning to find their rhythm when Higdon, who had earlier seen a goal incorrectly ruled-out for off-side, was dismissed for a needless challenge in midfield.
Chesterfield, who moments earlier had taken the lead courtesy of Jimmy Ryan’s superb finish, were fortunate to still enjoy their full compliment of players after Georg Margreitter inexplicably escaped with a caution after hauling down Jamie Murphy as he wriggled clean through.
Chesterfield goalkeeper Tommy Lee joined Higdon in the dressing room for felling Ryan Flynn as the United winger hunted down Ian Evatt’s poor return. With the excellent Sam Morsy orchestrating events from midfield, the hosts stretched their advantage still further when Paddy McCarthy, signed on loan 24 hours earlier from Crystal Palace, saw a pass intercepted which allowed Gary Roberts to convert.
United netted twice themselves during the closing stages to leave the outcome hanging in the balance but, by that time, Eoin Doyle had already claimed his 13th goal of the campaign. Their own decision-making, as well as the officials, left much to be desired.
“It’s a derby and the atmosphere is always electric,” Campbell-Ryce said. “You’ve got fans helping the referee to make decisions, you’ve got the referee making the wrong decisions because of it and you’ve got tackles and goals.
“Higgy made a rash tackle but I don’t know if it was a straight red in the context of the game. I think the ref let the occasion get to him a little bit but still, it’s a derby, that’s what happens.”
With Higdon, who had been courted by Chesterfield before joining United during the close season, set to miss the next three games, Clough intimated he could be tempted back into the loan market to bolster the attacking options at his disposal.
The visitors demonstrated the depth of character which had seen them enter Saturday’s fixture having recovered more points from losing positions that any other team in the league this term when Marc McNulty and Neill Collins both converted late on.
But their habit of starting matches slowly - they have led only once at the break since August - is a cause for concern.
“We have scored two goals await from home again, so scoring’s not the problem, the problem is conceding,” Clough said. “We are frustrated and disappointed to have lost a derby.
“There’s a lot of pent up frustration in there, we hope, when we lose that sort of game.
“What we have to work on is not conceding goals, that’s the biggest difference between now and last season. We said at half-time, don’t concede a third and we might get something from the game.”
Unfortunately, that advice fell on deaf ears although, as Clough later reminded, Doyle appeared to have strayed offside when he collected the ball. United’s failure to properly test Lee’s replacement and debutant Myles Wright will also have infuriated the former England international. Especially as, given the dreadful hash he made of collecting a routine through ball before presenting McNulty with the opportunity to score, his handling was far from assured. Nevertheless, they remain only five points behind the automatic promotion positions with 36 matches remaining.
Chesterfield, meanwhile, looked equipped to mount a challenge of their own.
Campbell-Ryce, now recovered from the calf problem which has caused him to miss four of United’s last five outings, delivered the set-piece which Collins turned home in stoppage time.
“I’m happy to be back playing because it’s been frustrating being away from the lads and out of the fold,” he said. “But, of course, the circumstances are disappointing.
“The way I feel, a few defenders should be scared if I start the next one because I just want to take out that frustration by running riot at them.
“ I felt like that when I came on. I just wanted to drive at their centre-halves and drive at their full-backs.”
CHESTERFIELD: Lee 5, Evatt *6, Darikwa 6, Ryan 7, Jones 7, Johnson 7, Margreitter 6, Morsy 8, O’Shea 6, Roberts **7, E Doyle ***7. Substitutes: Wright *(41) 6, Raglan, Banks, Clucas **(65) 6, Boco, Gardner, Gnanduillet ***(76).
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Alcock, Wallace *6, Flynn **6, M Doyle 6, Murphy 7, Scougall 6, Collins 6, McEveley ***, 6 Higdon 5, McCarthy 6. Substitutes: Harris ***(66) 6, Basham, McNulty *(50) 7, Davies, Campbell-Ryce **(63) 7, Reed, Turner.