FORGET Christmas, will the 2011/12 campaign be a jolly one for Sheffield United? That is the burning question at Bramall Lane.
Following relegation to League One, the Blades have regrouped quickly under the astute management of Danny Wilson and are in fifth position in the table after 20 matches. Indeed, they have lost just five times since Wilson took charge .
As United prepare to meet Bournemouth in their final fixture before Christmas tomorrow, here I suggest five potential things which would lift Wilson’s spirits over the festive period:
1) Keeping a hold of
When the Welsh international leads the attack, United transform from an ordinary team into a good side at this level. Evans gives them that X-Factor. His confidence is sky high following his goal-scoring exploits and there are bound to be one or two big clubs who enquire over his availability when the transfer window reopens in January. But United must stand firm, hold their nerve and not cash in on their top performer.
2) Re-signing Billy Clarke
Clarke shone earlier on in the season after arriving on a temporary basis from Blackpool. He is a very intelligent, mobile striker who boasts a superb left foot. While the Dubliner didn’t score as many goals as he would have liked at United, there is no disputing his contribution as he made a hatful of assists for his teammates. It is no secret Wilson wants to bring him back in the New Year, either on loan or in a permanent switch. Watch this space.
3) Getting James Beattie fit
A lean, fully-fit Beattie would strike fear into the hearts of the majority of League One defences. Wilson has thrown the 33-year-old a lifeline so it is up to him to seize the opportunity. His power and strength is expected to give United’s attack a new dimension. There is no reason why Beattie can’t form a potent partnership with Evans, take the pressure off the former Manchester City star and fire the goals to take the club up.
4) Beating the top sides
in the league.
In the head-to-head stakes with the current top six in the division, United’s record reads two victories, two defeats and one draw but, crucially, they have played all those matches on home soil. If they are to leapfrog Huddersfield, MK Dons, Wednesday or Charlton, they will have to do it the hard way. Realistically, I think United have to win a minimum of three of those games if they are to avoid the play-off lottery. Wilson said: “By the time the end of season comes, there will be a cigarette paper between four or five teams.”
5) Making sure they carry on picking up clean sheets.
Wilson has instilled organisation and discipline into United and it is essential the side carries on recording shut-outs to make their promotion dream a reality. In recent weeks, they have cut out the individual errors, which were threatening to undermine their challenge, and Wilson will be hoping for more of the same next year. The imminent return of left-back Andy Taylor from a long-term injury only boosts Wilson’s defensive rearguard.