James Shield's Sheffield United Column: The joy of six at Bramall Lane
With only two days to go before Sheffield United kick-off their latest Championship campaign, here's what we can expect from Chris Wilder's side and, just as importantly, what we can't.
Three things you will see or hear this season:
1) The manager waxing lyrical about character: Not so long ago, at a ground only a few goal kicks away from here, there was a manager who liked, no loved, to name drop. Sir Alex Ferguson, otherwise known as "The Big Man", was shoehorned into every conversation. So too was his other great pal David Moyes. Until, after tanking at Manchester United, he was suddenly dropped like a red hot brick. Brendan Rodgers, apparently another childhood pal and regular holiday companion, kindly stepped into the breach. It was like watching a fifty-something guy playing imaginary friends. While, for the sake of media relations, trying to contain the biggest belly laugh ever with a rictus grin painted across your face. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it spawned a game in our office called '*Insert Name Here* Bingo'. If there was Chris Wilder version, the winning card would include the word 'attitude' 25 times over. But it beats "my old mate Moysey" or, heaven forbid, "endeavour".2) Billy Sharp wrapping himself in a cotton wool suit ahead of the first Steel City derby: The real Captain Blade must have been gutted, absolutely gutted, to miss September's win at Hillsborough. Okay, he was named on the bench but, as United's coaching staff made clear beforehand, his chances of appearing were slim to nothing. And slim, thanks to injury, had just left town. So four months later, when Sheffield Wednesday travelled to Bramall Lane, Sharp must have been positively distraught to find himself among the substitutes again. A lifelong United supporter, he would probably swap a fair old few of his 216 career goals for one, wearing red and white stripes, against the old enemy. With that match finishing goalless, despite what seemed life a thousand crosses flashing across the visitors' box, do not expect United to make the same mistake again. Providing, of course, Sharp is in shape ahead of November's clash.3) Alan Knill perfecting his 'good cop' routine on the touchline: Neil Warmock, previously of United and now ensconced at Cardiff City, breathed a huge sigh of relief when he discovered only EFL managers will be subject to the new yellow and red card system designed to curb excess behaviour in the technical area next term. So big, in fact, there are reports it parted Jack Grealish's 'Arthur Shelby' and swept Adebayo Akinfenwa clean off his feet. Wilder's disciplinary record makes him look like the school swot in comparison but a diplomat he ain't. Knill, his even-tempered assistant, could have a crucial role to play over the coming 10 months. That gentle hand on the shoulder, the timely collar tug back towards the dug-outs, could turn out to be two of the most important manoeuvres in United's play book. Even more influential than his innovative set-piece routines.
And three things you definitely won't:1) Watch Paul Coutts 'put it in the mixer' or 'lump it' to the big man up top: Some players go about their business like bulls in a china shop. Others with the air of an aristocratic gentleman enjoying his afternoon constitutional around some particularly swanky park. Which is fine and dandy because it takes all sorts. Every successful team, no matter what Eric Cantona might think, boasts the right balance between water carriers and wizards. Coutts, the United midfielder, definitely falls into the latter category. And, as results immediately after a fractured leg cut short his season last year demonstrate, is one of Bramall Lane's most influential players. A wonderful passer of the ball, I look forward to watching him stroll his way through United's games later this season; wearing slippers and a smoking jacket. 2) Hear the manager talking about Sheffield Wednesday: You've probably already noticed. But, just in case you haven't, I'll let you into a secret; he never refers to them by name. In fact, the odds on him saying the 's' and 'w' words are probably longer than John Fleck being pictured wearing a Celtic shirt or Leon Clarke, Bramall Lane's notorious chatterbox, becoming the next Michael Parkinson. (I'm only joking. He's actually pretty good company. Just don't tell him I said so). Pay close attention to Wilder's interviews when Sheff...sorry, 'that lot over there', prepare to visit Bramall Lane in November. 3) Witness a new signing being confirmed in a short 100 word statement: Personally, I blame Bristol City's communications department. Or whoever was responsible for dreaming-up those oh so hilarious goal celebration GIF's. You know the ones I'm talking about; Aiden Flint, now of Middlesbrough, scuffs one in off his backside and suddenly, there in glorious technicolour on Ashton Gate's HD scoreboard, is a video of him furiously brushing his pearly whites. Cue much laughter and merriment all round. This innovative (or should that be bloody irritating?) trend has seeped into transfer dealings too with Championship clubs, all desperate to out do one another, now dreaming-up different ways to unveil a new arrival. Usually via a video published on social media. We've already had folk screen printing their names on the back of shirts. Mark my words, when the January window opens, someone will be filmed scribbling their autograph across a contract whilst juggling flaming balls of fire. All on the top of Mount Everest. Fortunately, United have so far been immune to this diabolical disease and hopefully it stays that way. Oh for the days when a firm handshake sufficed.