SHEFFIELD United head to Preston North End tomorrow third in the table and having tasted defeat only once in their last 24 regular League One games.
It’s a record which, ahead of last weekend’s meeting with Oldham, prompted some journalists to ask a red-faced Danny Wilson whether he should be regarded as the greatest manager in the history of Bramall Lane.
To his credit, the former Northern Ireland midfielder played the query with a bat so straight Sir Geoffrey Boycott would have been proud.
Wilson’s win percentage of 53.5 per cent is truly admirable. But there is plenty to be achieved before he can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Neil Warnock, Dave Bassett and the revered John Harris.
Arguably United’s greatest achievement, though, has taken place behind the scenes.
Because, as loanee Paul Gallagher’s presence recently seemed to demonstrate, officials have somehow ensured the club comply with the Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP). Not so long ago, that appeared about as probable as the First Lord of Fitzwilliam swapping Christmas cards with Steve Harmison.
At last year’s summer conference, the Football League’s 92 members voted to adopt UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Framework (FFP). United were among those to endorse the move even though, with an eight-figure wage bill, the words ‘turkey’ and ‘Christmas’ sprang to mind.
Ostensibly, FFP is designed to make this avaricious business break even. However, it also places certain other demands upon those applying for licences to compete including, curiously, a requirement to appoint qualified media and supporters liaison officers.
Those on the terraces keen on deriding everything emitted from Monsieur Platini’s mouth would do well to read Article 35 of the governing body’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations.
If United return to the Championship, FFP also imposes limits upon equity investment from shareholders. Under the present guidelines, that is pegged to £3 million at the end of 2016, by when a deviation of only £2m below ‘break even’ will be permitted.
FFP does allow certain exemptions, including academy expenditure, default by sponsors and the earnings of those professionals under the age of 21 - which explains the new accent on youth.
For the time being, though, SCMP is the piece of legislation probably felt most acutely by fans, pegging, as it does, spending on player wages to 65 per cent of turnover this term and 60 per cent next.
It means those charged with building squads must now be experts in reading balance sheets and projections as well as tactics and training methods. And it makes entering the loan market, especially in unexpected circumstances, a real minefield. There is no more wriggle room or ability to ‘gamble’.
Given the backdrop of churn foisted upon Wilson and his charges, the 52-year-old deserves a hefty pat on the back. Likewise, as much as it might stick in many throats, United’s suits too.