Danny Hall: Football is back for Sheffield United and Wednesday... and it’s the hope of a new dawn that kills us all!

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield United

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield United

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Summer, it’s been a blast. The nation has pretended to be interested in tennis for a fortnight or so, we’ve cheered on local lad Joe Root as he slayed the Pakistan bowling attack and we’ll do likewise for another of our own, Jessica Ennis-Hill, in Rio later this month.

There was the small matter of the European Championships in France, too, which yielded little apart from another dose of English despair and disappointment (and a welcome sweepstake win for your columnist, thanks to Ronaldo and Co.)

Carlos Carvalhal

Carlos Carvalhal

But football, proper football, is back. Not that it ever really went away - the summer break gets shorter each year and the news machine has been well-oiled between Wednesday’s play-off final failure, another new United manager and the latest, latest update from Paul bloody Pogba - but it’s real now. We can sense it, smell it and almost touch it again.

Fans who walked away from Bramall Lane, Hillsborough or even Wembley muttering ‘never again’ will be re-energised by a summer of emptiness and longing. Yes, Wednesday didn’t turn up at Wembley and no, Nigel Adkins’ reign at Blades will not live long in the memory - for any good reasons, at least.

But this is their own personal new dawn. It’ll be different this time, they say, more in hope than expectation. But they could have a point.

United, under Chris Wilder, appear to have their identity back, at least. Wednesday have recruited well, with Steven Fletcher and Almen Abdi in particular.

Wilder has signed a host of players with experience of League One combat; a frequent failure of his predecessors. Carvalhal snubbed reported overtures from the Premier League in order to remain at Wednesday, and continue his Hillsborough revolution.

His hopes of a fairytale first season in English football were dashed by one stunning movement of Mo Diame’s right boot, which broke Wednesday’s Wembley hearts and sent Hull back to the Premier League.

This year’s Championship - shorn of Burnley, Middlesbrough and Hull, bolstered by Aston Villa, Newcastle and Norwich - is perhaps stronger than ever, with perennial challengers Derby and Brighton and Ipswich in the mix.

Wednesday will also feel the omnipresent weight of expectation more than ever this season; chairman Dejphon Chansiri wants them back in the Premier League by next year, when they celebrate their 150th anniversary.

To do so, they will have to overcome two clubs managed by Champions League-winning bosses, find a way of beating fellow top sides and keep their own expectations in check.

Only then, to paraphrase the chant, will Wednesday be on their way back.

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“It’s the hope that kills you,” says one Blades fan. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” smiles another.

It’s by no means a unique situation to Sheffield United supporters, but it’s one that seems to resonate at Bramall Lane more than anywhere else.

A scarcely-believable season that garners 90 points and 92 goals that ends in the penalty shoot-out defeat in the play-off final at Wembley, the arch-rivals stealing promotion and the 35-goal star striker jailed for rape.

A manager sacked when still in with a shot of automatic promotion; another failed play-off campaign, his rookie replacement winning one of 13 games in charge. A turnaround from relegation probables to promotion outsiders, via two major cup semi-finals; then the manager with arguably the best CV of the lot, leading them to 11th place in League One.

It’s been an eventful six years in the third tier for United, but there is a real feeling - cautious optimism, if you like - that this time will be different. Under the stewardship of a ‘real Blade’ in the dugout and on the pitch, in new skipper Billy Sharp, there appears to be no chance of a repeat of last season, when United meandered between League One outposts with no real identity or purpose.

Will it make a difference? The signs point towards an emphatic yes, for this columnist at least. Strip it back to basics and they have all the basic components; a goal-happy strike force, one of the division’s best midfielders in John Fleck and, at last, more than one head-it-and-kick-it centre-halves. Room for improvement, of course. But it’s the hope that kills you, remember. Not that United fans would have it any other way.

Here’s to a great season.

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