Sheffield United: Blades' Championship success so far under Chris Wilder not all down to momentum

Momentum, according to its definition in the dictionary, is the quantity of motion of a moving body.

Tuesday, 24th October 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:03 pm
Chris Wilder had to pick up his players after defeat at Cardiff earlier in the season.

Basic physics dictates that for something to have momentum, it has to have mass. Be tangible. Be real.

Football teams - by definition, anyway - aren’t. They’re abstract; an idea. A representation of a club, sure. A vehicle for hopes and dreams and frustration and hatred and everything else that comes with the game, certainly. But not physically ‘real’.

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Which makes the theory of momentum even more curious. It’s now a widely-used term in the game, along similar lines as winning habits, and one doubtless used by this correspondent in recent times. But it struck a particular chord this weekend when Phil Brown, the Southend boss, used it liberally to describe Sheffield United’s success this season on Saturday night’s Football on 5 - twice using ‘momentum’ as the reason Wilder’s side sit third in the Championship, only outside the automatic promotion places on goal difference.

Brown describing Wilder as the ‘manager of the century’ was the takeaway line and after his promotion success under financial constraints at Oxford and Northampton - followed by the League One title and 100 points for United last season - it’s not a difficult theory to argue with.

But some Blades did take exception to his assertion that “I think it’s momentum with United. It’s a big club and the whole support is going along with it.”

The thinking is simple enough; last season, United won 30 of their 46 league games and tasted victory in ten of their last 11, drawing the other. They followed it up with six wins from six in pre-season, and any thoughts that the ‘winning habit’ would simply roll over into the Championship weren’t dampened when they beat Brentford on the opening day at Bramall Lane.

Southend United manager Phil Brown - Pic by James Williamson

So far, so good. But then came the hammer blow, of successive defeats on the road at Middlesbrough and Cardiff; a feeling they hadn’t experienced for almost exactly a year.

The first, an unjust defeat at Boro that saw a last-minute equaliser incorrectly ruled out for offside, was galling. The second, at then-leaders Cardiff, was frustrating, and perhaps a reminder to Wilder and United that they wouldn’t have things all their own way in this league.

Except since, they have. The ten league games since have produced eight victories, over sides like Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, league leaders Wolves and Reading, last season’s beaten play-off finalists.

In Brown’s defence, United’s style of play has probably been the furthest thing in his mind with his Southend side mid-table in League One, as their chairman Ron Martin eyes the Championship “at a minimum”. But his momentum assertion, while honestly held, simply doesn’t stack up and does Wilder and his players something of a disservice.

Southend United manager Phil Brown - Pic by James Williamson

Whatever momentum really is - be it confidence, habits, or just sheer luck - Wilder’s men will have lost a little of it after two defeats in a row. What they have done since is pick themselves up, stick to what they do well and go about their business with a confidence, a ruthlessness and a team spirit that comes from the top down. In short - as managers like Nuno Espírito Santo and Carlos Carvalhal and their expensively-assembled squads will no doubt testify - they are where they are because they’re a damn good team, in every sense of the word.

Next up is a tough trip just up the M1, to Yorkshire rivals Leeds where, in front of a partisan crowd and the Sky Sports cameras, the team fresh out of the Pub League could go top of the Championship.

Then let’s see where the momentum takes them.