Anyone assuming that Sheffield United would struggle in their second season back in the Sky Bet Championship reckoned without the attacking instincts of Chris Wilder’s Blades.
One of the sharpest is winger and playmaker Mark Duffy who is hoping to score in a third successive game at Bristol City on Saturday when a fourth straight victory could take his side top.
Duffy has journeyed around since coming into the EFL at the age of 24 and has not always been trusted to take control of games in spite of a technique inspired by Andres Iniesta.
Mark Duffy is hoping to score in a third successive game at Bristol City on Saturday
Now 32, and having had spells with Morecambe, Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Birmingham and Burton, he takes our Sky Bet EFL Q&A this week.
A Liverpool fan, he would love to play alongside Steven Gerrard, although he opts for Pep Guardiola over Jurgen Klopp as the manager for whom he would most like to play…
Describe yourself on the pitch in 3 words
Calm. Creative. Risk-taker.
Describe yourself off pitch in 3 words
Relaxed. Deep thinker. Studious.
Best moment of your career so far?
It’s hard to pick as I’ve had a few great moments.
Being promoted with Burton (from Sky Bet League One to the Championship in 2015-16) when we were favourites to get relegated was a real achievement as a group and shows what can be done with hard work.
That season I went there on loan from Birmingham. I had been injured the previous year, so I needed game time.
The Burton manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink gave me a call and when someone like him gives you call, it means a lot.. I wanted to work with him because he was such a great player and it’s always good to see if a person like that can improve you. He did.
He got my fitness levels up to a point which I’ve probably never been at in my career. It was really intensive training, but when he tells you the reason why, you just buy into it.
Most of that Burton side had been released by League Two teams, but we all came together, we had a great balance and we were really hard to beat. We just kept getting 1-0 wins and the momentum just took us forward.
When he left for QPR, it was an emotional dressing room – and not just the players, the staff as well.
Then getting promoted with Sheffield United two seasons ago (2016-17) was special. The way we played and the points tally we got, there’s not many teams to reach 100 points in a season.
In both of those seasons I was chosen for the team of the year, as voted for by your fellow professionals, which is a great feeling.
But the best actual moment would have to be scoring in the Sheffield derby to make it 3-2 (United won 4-2 at Hillsborough in September 2017).
To be honest, I was a bit gutted I wasn’t playing from the start. We drew the game before and the gaffer just changed the team around.
Everyone tells you how big the Sheffield derby is, but you don’t really understand until the week of the game. And it was the first derby for six years.
We probably should have been out of sight by half-time. We were 2-0 up, then they pulled one back just before half-time which gave them a lift. I came on about 30 seconds before they scored again.
The noise was incredible, the place was rocking and the ground was actually shaking, so to score so quickly afterwards and put an end to that was unbelievable.
It happened so quickly. I played a few little passes, then a one-two with Leon Clarke. Usually in those situations I look for a pass, but I was in the zone. I just put my laces through the ball and it went right through the keeper.
Our fans were on the top tier and I could just see them swarm to the front, nearly toppling over. The adrenaline that goes through your body at that moment is unexplainable.
If you could bottle up and sell that feeling you have for those 45 seconds, you’d be a very rich man.
The 32-year-old is a Liverpool fan but prefers Pep Guardiola to Jurgen Klopp
Who is the hardest opponent you have faced?
Wes Hoolahan. I remember playing for Scunthorpe against Norwich a few years back. I was coming back from injury so I was on the bench in the first half. They were beating us 3-0 when I came on and Grant Holt had scored a hat-trick.
Then Simeon Jackson came on and he got a hat-trick, but it was Hoolahan who was unplayable. Two players got a hat-trick in the same game, but it was him who was named man of the match. That’s how good he was that day.
Passing and moving, little one-twos, finding space, shielding the ball. I remember watching him and thinking: ‘Wow.’
I’ve played against a lot of players in my time, but he was on another level that day, pulling midfielders out of position and defenders everywhere. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
After the game I wanted to see his passport because I was sure he was Spanish. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Barcelona side that day.
Most embarrassing moment in football?
Probably being relegated on the last day with Doncaster (from the Championship in 2013-14). We hadn’t been in the bottom three all season and only needed one win out the last six games or maybe only a point.
For us not to get it with the team we had was embarrassing and we let a lot of people down.. It’s a horrible feeling being relegated.
Paul Dickov was the manager. We had a good team and we were placed pretty well with 10 or 15 games to go. We just went on a bad losing streak, changed formations, changed personnel and we got into a rut of losing games.
We needed a point at Leicester away on the last day of the season, but we couldn’t get it and then Birmingham scored two goals late on in their game (a 2-2 draw at Bolton) which kept them up.
I wasn’t even on the bench that day because there was an issue with the contracts of one or two players. When I signed, Doncaster insisted on inserting a clause saying that I could leave on a free transfer if we got relegated.
I didn’t want that clause in the contract – none of the new players did – but then when it started to look possible that we might go down, the club tried to take the clause out of the contract so that we would commit to the club.
But you can’t have it both ways and unfortunately when we went down, I didn’t play many of the games at the end of the season because of that clause. I was left out of the squad in that final game at Leicester.
I ended up signing for Birmingham which had the Doncaster fans raging, as you can imagine.
Which song gets you in mood for a match?
I like to listen to a bit of Oasis, they have so many good songs it’s incredible. But Drake’s the one playing most in dressing rooms now and he’s got some great songs that get you in the mood.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
It’s got to be a Chinese, anything salt and pepper. We get tested and monitored every two weeks so I can’t have too many, but I’ll probably have one on a Saturday night if we haven’t got a Tuesday game. That’s how I treat myself.
Which player in history would you like to play alongside – and why?
Being from Liverpool, I’ve got to mention Steven Gerrard. I think he’s the most complete player ever to play the game.
He was unbelievable for so many years, didn’t really have any weaknesses and always produced in the big games. If you look at his record in finals and big international games, it’s incredible.
But someone I just loved watching was Andres Iniesta. Wow, the stuff he used to do, the way he glided with the ball at his feet, his eye for a pass can only be described as a joy to watch.
I still watch clips of him before every game and watching how he plays the game just brings a smile to my face. The things he can do, how well he can manipulate the ball, how well he shields the ball.
That’s something English players don’t do as well as Spanish players. I hope I’ve managed to pick up one or two things from watching him. He’s got a similar body-type to me and he plays in similar positions on the pitch.
We’d play together in a three-man midfield. I’d probably sit with Gerrard and just watch Iniesta float about.
Which famous manager would you have loved to play for – and why?
Even though I’m a Red and I love Jurgen Klopp, I can’t look past Pep Guardiola. The way his team plays is incredible – and many people thought his style wouldn’t be able to win a Premier League.
He proved again what a top manager he is by running away with the league last year.
The documentary on City that came out a few months back has given us even more of an insight to him. Not only is he a brilliant manger and tactician, he’s a brilliant man manager and motivator.
What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?
Before being a footballer, I used to work as a multi-sports coach for my local council, which would mean me going into the local schools to put on the PE lessons and after-school clubs. It was something that I really enjoyed.
Tell us a secret that fans won’t know…
I don’t really have any if I’m honest. Well, none that I can think of now, except that my brother-in-law Jamie used to be in a band called Space who were quite famous in the 90s.
Their most famous hit was ‘Female of the Species’ and I remember one year him fighting with Madonna to be the Christmas number one, which is mad. And he’s also played at Glastonbury in front of 60,000 plus. He was the lead guitarist and one of the vocalists. Crazy.
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