Alan Biggs' Sheffield United column: Blades showing that they don't have a comfort zone - they are just relentless
Twelve games to go and practically safe in the Premier League - yet far from comfortable.
Oh no. If anything encapsulates the extraordinary progression of Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United it is their ambition to go higher and genuinely believing they can do it.
“It” being an incredible qualification for Europe, potentially even the Champions League. Who can possibly have imagined reading a sentence like that in mid-February of 2020? And being able to write it with similar conviction to that exuding from the manager and players.
Wilder doesn’t shy away from the reality of what’s in front of him so he won’t duck the challenge, pressure - call it what you will - of chasing a seemingly impossible dream. It’s there in black and white in the league table, and the remaining set of fixtures, that United have an opportunity, in Wilder’s own words, to “turn it from a good season into an exceptional one.”
If that’s pressure, it’s unfair, of course. But did you see any in the way the Blades overturned an early deficit to Bournemouth to go back fifth?
And does anybody seriously expect this group to choke? If they do, it’s more likely to be on accepting unreserved praise from the blue and white half of the city.
I jest actually because there is nothing more telling. Like this, from former Wednesday star Carlton Palmer: “People who think United are going to fall off are sadly mistaken.”
It would have happened by now, insists pundit Carlton, adding: “They’ve been in every game and teams are frightened of them.”
Not least, he says, because of their quality on the ball, so unexpected in some quarters. “Their ball-retention had to improve in the Premier League - and it has ten-fold. They are comfortable in possession.”
Palmer even makes a comparison with the star-studded Owls team of his generation. They were relatively much better paid than Wilder’s side, who are still towards the bottom of the elite pay scale, but there is an underlying similarity.
As Palmer puts it: “I played in a dressing room with quite a few wealthy people (Des Walker, Chris Waddle...). We were all very comfortable in life but were all driven to play. All I can do is compare that to the boys at Bramall Lane. They must be on £750,000 to £1m a year - and they don’t look comfortable to me.
“The one thing Chris never praises them for is hard work, that’s a given. I love seeing them having a craic - that’s what we had at Wednesday.”
Sometimes praise from outside the camp is better for perspective and you can’t go much higher than that.