Alan Biggs' Sheffield United column: Twelve cup finals remain - can 'hungry' Blades secure European spot?

While results are impossible to predict, there is a simple defining measure of Sheffield United’s chances of finishing in the Premier League’s top four or five.

Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 2:17 pm
John Lundstram of Sheffield Utd celebrates scoring the wining goal during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Picture date: 9th February 2020. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

They will have to play well in most, if not all, of their 12 remaining matches.

Chris Wilder knows and accepts the truth of this. “We’re not a team that doesn’t play well and win,” he says. “We have to play well to win.”

It is an unusual trait for achievers at any level, including those at the elite end of the scale.

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Look at champions-elect Liverpool and the many games they have edged, redeeming patchy performances with a flash of quality. Or, in one case, luck.

Liverpool played badly, or were made to, at Bramall Lane back in September, winning only through a highly uncharacteristic Dean Henderson howler.

This rarely, if ever, happens for United, albeit they won with a keeper’s own goal in their last away game at Crystal Palace where, otherwise, they earned the victory.

In fact, when did they last play badly? Arguably, in the rankest form, there is not a single instance of it throughout the league season.

It has been a phenomenal effort of consistency, made all the more astonishing for the fact that the first nine names on the teamsheet have barely changed.

Maintain that for another 12 games, starting with Brighton’s visit on Saturday, and, looking at the fixtures, the likelihood is high that Wilder’s men will indeed be playing European football next season.

The key is simply that; sticking to the same levels of quality and intensity, knowing that the rewards will have to be worked rather than conjured out of nothing.

United are in such a groove that you really can’t see them juddering. Personally, I have the same feeling about that as I had about them winning promotion from a similar stage last season.

Wilder believes Bournemouth match-winner John Lundstram exemplifies the attitude that can pull them through.

“John had a decision to make on losing his place,” he said. “To feel sorry for himself or rise to the challenge, as he did.

“I believe the signings we made in January (Sander Berge, Panos Retsos, Richairo Zivkovic) will improve people.

“I could go right the way through. They all want to play. And when they don’t play, they do their best for the club - which is priceless from my point of view.

“This is a hungry group. We haven’t got comfy shoes on; we want a bit more out of our season.”

Make that a lot.