Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: We CAN get out of this. But personal abuse of players isn't helping the cause...

At the start of the season I’d decided that I should do a ‘quit while I’m ahead’ type thing and NOT do any more Blades columns! Ten games gone and here I am again! I’ll briefly explain...

Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 6:00 am

I’d so much enjoyed writing about the previous four fantastic season and it had been an absolute pleasure to be able to do so, especially given the heights we hit last year as we took the Premier League by storm.

I feared that we probably couldn’t replicate last seasons results and if we were to struggle at times, I didn’t want to be writing any negative articles or criticising players or staff in any way.

After all, I’m just a fan basically, albeit one with a lot of playing experience, speaking from the heart, and trying to entertain and hopefully inform other fans with my opinions. With the feedback I’ve received over the years, I’d like to think I’ve achieved both of those aims.

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So given all the above, and looking at the table, why am I even doing this and how on earth do I write an article WITHOUT criticising or being negative in any way?

Surely, being bottom with one point after ten games says it all doesn’t it? No further evidence needed, M’lud. We’re doomed. We’re going down. Case closed surely?

Except the case isn’t closed is it? Far from it in fact, as the evidence before our very eyes was laid bare for the whole footballing world to see on Saturday evening as we tore apart WBA time and time again.

I don’t need to recap the whole game as we all know what happened, but did that really look like a team destined to be relegated, without any confidence and just going through the motions?

Kevin Gage Column
Kevin Gage Column

Our football, at times, was on a par with anything we saw last season, with the move down the left side in the first ten minutes finishing with Kean Bryan crossing for Oli Burke’s flying header the pick of the bunch.

At times it was vintage ‘Wilderball’ with great crosses, numerous chances and some top quality inter-play in and around the WBA penalty area. A total of 22 efforts at goal is a very telling statistic.

On another day, we win the game 3-1 or 4-1. All that was missing was the final finish, and therein lies the story of our whole season - we’re creating goalscoring opportunities, but just not converting enough of them.

It’s too easy to blame just the strikers. Many other players have had really good chances, but have snatched at shots and not hit target or not fully tested the keeper if they have. With more clinical finishing not only would we have reached this season's ‘expected goals’ metric of 12 so far, we’d have probably exceeded it.

Aaron Ramsdale has made some key saves for Sheffield United this season - but has also received abuse on social media: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Think back and slot those missing eight extra goals we should have scored into some of our results this season, and all of a sudden we’ve turned a few single goal defeats into 2-1 wins, and some narrow single goal defeats into draws.

At the other end of the pitch our ‘expected goals against’ is broadly where it should be and with Aaron Ramsdale having to make save after save it’s credit to him that it’s actually where it is.

Maybe I’m being overly simplistic about all this but the evidence is all there in the data, and also with our own eyes.

The one person who definitely WILL be seeing all this of course is our manager. He’s been there, done that, read the book, got the t-shirt, and everything in between.

Oli McBurnie has also attracted personal abuse online: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

If he’s happy with how his team are performing generally then we should be too.

If he has criticism, then it will be offered behind closed doors in the correct setting and probably be of a constructive nature, you’d imagine.

The traditional expletive-laden ‘rollocking’ dished out by many a manager in the past might just be fading away these days, but given that Chris’s introduction to the harsh reality of professional football was under Dave Bassett in the late 1980s then you can bet that he learned a great deal about how to get the very best out of his players. More often than not the stick option was used more than the carrot!

Yes, I’ve also been there and experienced that!

Unfortunately, criticism is part and parcel of the game. It always has been and always will be - along with the praise and adulation, there will always be comment and opinions from management, pundits, journalists, fans, and indeed everyone interested in or associated with the game.

And these days of course we have social media to contend with as well! It’s transformed all our lives and whether is been a good or bad thing I’ll let you decide, but when tens of thousands of fans are unable to physically attend matches it’s an all-too-easy outlet for our frustrations, a problem exacerbated by not being even able to discuss the game with our mates in the pub after!

Former Blades right-back Kevin Gage

Instead of in-depth discussion we instinctively reach for our phone and type out our thoughts, usually condensed into 280 characters on Twitter or bite-sized chunks on Facebook, and into the countless Blades forums and groups around.

It’s now common knowledge that one or two Blades players have been aware of some personal criticism and have naturally reacted to it, as let’s be honest, most of us would do exactly the same.

It’s certainly not helping our cause, and if we are to have any chance of escaping from the predicament we’re are in then we certainly need every single Blades fan in the country to be fully behind the manager, the team and every single player in the squad.

If we can’t physically be there for them, then we need to virtually be there at the very least. Have a moan and a groan by all means, but don’t make it personal. Please.

Keep the faith, Blades. We have ‘previous’ when it comes to making incredible escapes from seemingly impossible relegation scenarios and it CAN be done again.

Whatever happens, we know that if we do ultimately fail it certainly wont from lack of effort on the pitch, so let's not let them down off it. We’re all in this together and we all want the same thing.

Let’s stand united. Let’s be united. After all, we ARE united

We’re Sheffield United. It’s what we do best.

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House hotel/bar/café in Dronfield. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev

Chris Wilder, Kevin Gage, Dave Bassett and Jock Waugh