There were many factors behind Sheffield United’s success last season; togetherness, a transfer strategy focusing on players who were fit for purpose and Chris Wilder’s ability to construct a technically proficient but ruthless attacking team.
Another less vaunted component of the League One’s champions’ make-up was discipline. United’s ability to go about their business in aggressive fashion without, the odd occasion excepted, straying on to the wrong side of the law enabled the manager to select settled starting elevens through the course a historic campaign.
Changes, as United accumulated 100 points en route to the title, were dictated by fitness and tactical hunches. Not cautions, sendings-off or FA bans.
“I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t win the dirty award league,” Wilder joked earlier this week. “We want to smash into teams. We won everything else but we couldn’t win that one. Joking aside, I was quite surprised when the stat came up because we are a competitive aggressive team.”
United actually came joint 17th in the division’s official fair play table last term; a competition which curiously places the best-behaved club at the bottom of the ranking and most unruly at the top. Keeping control of their emotions and showing respect for match officials is a habit they can not afford to kick next season given the correlation between league position and good behaviour.
Bolton Wanderers and Millwall, who were also promoted to the Championship, finished 20th and joint 12th by the same measure while in League Two, the connection was even more pronounced.
Intriguingly, United’s tally of bookings was the highest of any title-winning team since their relegation in 2011. This, however, is likely to be explained by the fact the average number of cards issued during games has risen year on year, from 2.04 in 2011/12 to 2.43 last term. United can also expect to see the number of cautions they accrue rise next season. The Championship’s figures, despite League One being perceived as a more combative division, are actually higher while Wilder’s side are likely to spend more matches on the back foot.
“You’ve got to give yourself the best possible opportunity at all times,” Wilder acknowledged. “And it goes without saying that you are going to struggle if you keep on losing players or can’t keep 11 men on the pitch. You can go about your business the right way, be forceful and battle for everything, but also stay focused and not get into trouble. Okay, people are going to get cards every now and then but it is possible.”