IT seems absolutely light years away now to be talking about something that happened before Christmas.
Even though my reference point is from only six days ago, it could just as well be 60.
I refer to last Saturday and Sheffield United going top of the tree for Christmas.
It may not count for a great deal if your team misses out come the Spring, but I’ve always reckoned that if their team is in contention come the final weekend before Christmas, then fans like it if the team goes into Christmas as top of the table.
It sort of sends them off with an extra spring in their step as they look ahead to the ‘big day’ itself a few days hence and I suspect a few Unitedites had an extra celebration on a festive Saturday night last weekend.
The way it happened isn’t rare either.
I’ve a soft spot for this “top at Christmas” thing and have often noticed how a team will spring from an unlikely situation into top spot. Sometimes, you get a team going top for the first time in the season or first time for a long time.
A famous example of that happened at Bramall Lane. Barnsley won 1-0 there on the weekend before Christmas in 1996 to go top of what’s now The Championship on their way to promotion to the top flight that season.
I vividly recall a Barnsley fan telling me it was one of the happiest feelings of his football life as he left the Lane that Saturday night and it made him look forward to Christmas even more.
Last Saturday morning, United were one of five clubs who could finish top. It did cross my mind it might end up being the unlikeliest of them, MK Dons, then fifth.
But United picked up an excellent away win, the rest missed out and so it was the start of a Happy Christmas.
MOST of the end-of-year gongs have been handed out although the New Year’s Honours List comes out today.
The honours are supposed to be closely-guarded secrets so the ‘leaking’ of knighthoods for Bradley Wiggins and Ben Ainslie, and others, was all a bit undignified.
Well, I’m handing a gong out. To my Manager of the Year. Danny Wilson.
In the first half of 2012, he had Sheffield United playing some exhilarating football, scoring goals galore and entertaining.
Then along came those shattering blows of missing out on promotion when, twice, it seemed stitched on.
Firstly via the automatic route and losing out to your neighbours and bitter rivals. Then after your opponents had missed their first three spot kicks in the shoot-out.
So a bad hangover to deal with come August? It must have been hammering like a drum. Oh, and he’s had to massively slash the budget and still produce a winning team. And there’s no prolific scorer this time, either.
So, after free-flowing, it’s now down a more pragmatic route. Can they be as successful when not scoring so many? Yet the results have kept coming.
It’s been a phenomenal response to crushing setbacks and those financial restrictions. And they’re set to finish the year top. Well done, Danny.
ANYWAY, may I wish you a Happy New Year and as you look forward to celebrating its onset, you’ll no doubt wonder how times flies.
And ponder the fact that next year, 2013, sees the 20th anniversary of the day the city’s two clubs, United and Wednesday, met in that famous FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Go on... ‘It’s never 20 years?’ Yes, it is!