James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: The Blades are a family...and families have each other’s backs
Two years ago, around this stage of the season, something dawned on me.
The greatest achievement of Chris Wilder and his squad was not ending Sheffield United's six year stint in the third tier of English football. Or even, as they would later go on to do, lifting the League One title after collecting a remarkable 100 points haul.
Instead as a I travelled back up the motorway and watched the countryside flash by following a memorable afternoon at Northampton Town, it became apparent a process much more important than simply delivering results had just been completed. And that, no matter what they did in the Championship, the manager and his players would never accomplish anything more meaningful or vital.
I'm talking, of course, about restoring the relationship between the team and the terraces. Putting pride back into the Bramall Lane community. Making the club, for the first time in a long while, about more than what happened on the pitch.
Although the race for automatic promotion is now in Leeds' hands, Marcelo Bielsa's squad can not risk putting the champagne on ice just yet. Indeed, as last weekend's skirmish between United and Millwall reminded, form counts for little in this notoriously unpredictable division. Particularly at this stage of the campaign.
Who would have thought that Norwich City, seemingly cruising towards the Championship championship, would be held to a draw by Wigan Athletic and Reading? After Wilder's charges were forced to share the spoils with opponents fighting for survival at the opposite end of the table, their rivals from West Yorkshire are now three points clear in second with four fixtures remaining. Wilder, whose men are third, enters the Bank Holiday period without a trio of key players.
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But if they are forced to take the play-off route, which given the schedule is by no means certain, qualifying is still a remarkable achievement for a whole host of reasons. And United's miserable record in the end of season knockouts is, as Dave Bassett reminds today, an irrelevance.
For all its imperfections and petty squabbling, United is a wonderful family. And families, when one or some of their members are in need of assistance, have each other's backs. Stand shoulder to shoulder and, when faced with outside criticism, close ranks.
After a rare false step against the visitors from London, Wilder's players are in need of such backing now. And, having earned people's respect over the course of the past 35 months, deserve unqualified and unequivocal support right the way through tomorrow's match against Nottingham Forest. Until the end of the season and beyond in fact.