Alan Biggs at Large: Chris Wilder's response to Sheffield United's rare defeat suggests the Blades are in good hands
Tell me if you can remember another sequence like it. Not so much a Sheffield United hard luck story as an astonishing statistical freak.
Four games with around 60 per cent possession in each and averaging well over it. Shots across those four games; 82. How many goals? Just four. Points; seven. It should have been 12.
Now I know there’s a recurring pattern here that could worry some people. Ridiculously narrow wins over Shrewsbury and Bury were followed by the late peg back to 1-1 at Charlton and then Walsall’s 1-0 steal at Bramall Lane where admittedly, for all their pressing, United failed to work enough clear openings and test the opposition goalkeeper.
But repeat those stats on a regular basis and you’re not telling me the Blades are on anything other than the right lines. Throw in the controversially disallowed goal on Tuesday, the Billy Sharp penalty miss plus the claims for other spot-kicks and you come back to the word I used at the start – freak.
In another sense, the problem is not so uncommon and easily explained. Chris Wilder and Co. will have to engineer a way through and round blanket defences now that other visitors will have seen what can be done.
The message seems to be to back off from players in possession up to around 30 yards from goal and swamp the area.
Yet I doubt there is much wrong that can’t be rectified by perseverance and a fairer run of the ball. Wilder made a big statement that said all of the above simply by taking the field (which he tends not to after victories) to console his players and rally the crowd amid the frustration at full-time in midweek.
It’s easy for a manager to join the celebrations after a victory but it means more to be visible after a defeat – and it was the first, let’s not forget, in 16 league games. Perhaps a few United fans, steeped in the failures of recent times, need reminding of what has been achieved and the collective resolve within the club not to slip back now that standards have been set.
A few players dipped below them on Tuesday and, with a strong array of attacking talent, Wilder will expect a greater output in exploring various options and permutations.
After Bolton away in the FA Cup on Sunday, three of the next four league matches are at the Lane. Given a repeat of the landslide possession and 72 shots of the last three, I’d be surprised at anything less than nine points.