We believe these are Sheffield United's most important displays of the season...do you agree?

The Star has covered every single one of Sheffield United’s games this season.

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 10:05 am

So, when it comes to selecting the most significant performances of their Premier League campaign so far, we think we’re better placed to judge than some media outlets. Here, our United writer James Shield selects what he believes are the eight most significant performances Chris Wilder’s side have produced since August and explains why. Do you agree with his picks?

Saturday 10 August, 2019, AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Sheffield United

The result and the manner it was achieved was important; after falling behind to a Chris Mepham goal, United ensured they took a point from their first top-flight game in 12 years when Billy Sharp was summoned from the bench and scrambled home a late equaliser. But something just as critical happened earlier in the day too, three hours or so before Chris Wilder’s squad made their way to the Vitality Stadium. Having travelled to Dorset the day before - and spent the night cooped up in their town centre hotel - United’s players and coaching staff went out for a walk around the south coast resort and found themselves mingling with supporters congregated outside a nearby pub after also making the long journey down from South Yorkshire. Many footballers at the highest level are effectively cocooned; spending their lives inside a gilded bubble full of Louis Vutton wash bags, Dsquared2 jeans and other designer goods, only encouraged to meet and greet those who follow them when it suits or at official meet and greet events. But United’s willingness to chat with their fans and shake hands - or bump elbows as is now the fashion during the coronavirus outbreak - proved they hadn’t lost their sense of perspective since securing promotion. That bond between the team and the terraces, which Wilder cites as a driving force behind their climb to seventh in the table before competition was suspended, remained strong. On the pitch, United answered some questions too, initially being outmuscled by Eddie Howe’s side before wrestling back control.

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Sunday 18 August 2019, Sheffield United 1-0 Crystal Palace

The greatest fear of most newly promoted teams, particularly those like United who have spent a long time outside the Premier League, is that they find themselves still searching for a win after six or seven games and staring up at the rest of the table. Pressure builds. Self belief erodes. And doubt starts to gnaw away at confidence. On the face of it, United had presented a pretty bullish front as they prepared to take their first steps into a division they had not experienced since being relegated, in hugely controversial circumstances, over a decade earlier. But behind the assured facade, it was inevitable some nerves lurked. Indeed several months later, when it became clear his team had established a foothold in this season’s competition, Wilder confirmed their existence. United could have faced more glamorous opposition during their second match of the campaign and their first at home since being promoted. But Roy Hodgson’s side know their way around the division - as their position in the league table now - shows. They also had the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt in tow. Although Palace enjoyed more possession, Zaha made little impression in the game as United’s defence, now regarded as one of the best in the country, showed it could cope with skilled attackers before John Lundstram pounced.

Saturday 31 August 2019, Chelsea 2-2 Sheffield United

United’s first meeting with one of the Premier League’s recognised big guns turned out to be particularly illuminating, providing an insight into not only their character but also their ability to answer questions and adapt in the heat of battle. Having appointed Frank Lampard during the close season and, under a transfer embargo, tasked their former midfielder with blooding some of Stamford Bridge’s wonderful array of home grown talent, the six-time English champions were in a period of transition when Wilder and his players made the trip to west London. But after racing into a 2-0 lead at half-time, Chelsea appeared to be on course for a routine victory. To make matters worse, both of Tammy Abraham’s goals had come following defensive mistakes. Reactive rather than proactive, United had looked overawed by their surroundings during the first 45 minutes of the contest. That was probably inevitable, given that only three years earlier, some of those at Wilder’s disposal had been playing in League One. But a rousing team talk during the interval, when United were reminded they “weren’t day trippers”, or there to “collect shirts and autographs”, Callum Robinson pounced immediately after the restart. When Dean Henderson, whose mistake had presented Abraham with his opener, produced a brilliant save to deny the England international his hat-trick, it marked a sea change in the course of the game. Lampard made a series of tactical changes as Chelsea tried and failed to maintain their grip on the contest. The equaliser went down as a Kurt Zouma own goal, even though Lys Mousset seemed to get the final touch and United proved something, not only to those who had written them off, but most importantly themselves.

Sheffield United fans have been an important part of the team's success this season, says manager Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Saturday 28 September 2019, Sheffield United 0-1 Liverpool

It seems strange to describe a defeat as a significant moment in United’s season. Particularly one which came about following an individual error and ended with Wilder, bizarrely, coming under scrutiny for potentially endangering the mental health of the player concerned. But this loss, to a Liverpool team which has since gone on to take the top-flight by storm, was. And for a host of different reasons. First, the match as a whole confirmed United could not only live with and trouble the country’s best. Actually, make that the best in Europe and possibly the globe too given that Jurgen Klopp’s side are the reigning Champions League title holders and would later go on to be crowned World Club champions. Yes, the visitors created plenty of chances. But they also came under pressure for long periods themselves. Secondly, events during the fixture provided an insight into the personality of United’s on-loan goalkeeper - Henderson - and revealed Wilder understands the individual characters within his squad better than anyone. Certainly better than those journalists who, desperate for an angle to fill their television magazine programmes, talk radio shows and, to a lesser extent, newspaper columns, accused him of messing with the youngster’s mind by providing a brutally honest assessment of the slip which handed Georginio Wijnaldum the winning goal during the closing stages. Wilder, appreciating that Henderson is the type of professional who is inspired by criticism of his performances rather than crushed, labelled him an England number one in the making but insisted he “must do better than that” in order to achieve those aims. He has and, after a series of superb displays, he will. Thirdly, the fact Liverpool were pushed so hard by United made those pundits who had predicted they would be down by Christmas look foolish.

Monday 21 October 2019, Sheffield United 1-0 Arsenal

This was United’s first win over one of the Premier League’s elite names. And it was delivered when Lys Mousset scored on his first start since arriving from AFC Bournemouth during the close season. The French centre-forward, who had struggled for fitness at the beginning of his career in South Yorkshire, would go on to become one of the competition’s most talked about players over the Autumn period. John Fleck was also superb for United in midfield, snapping at the heels of the opposition and then showing he boasts technique as well as tenacity by driving the game forward when the opportunity allowed. Unai Emery, who would later be sacked as Arsenal manager, claimed his men had deserved more. Wilder acknowledged it had been a “tight” affair but disagreed with the Spaniard’s assessment. He was right to do so and eyebrows had been raised in the press room when Emery, growing increasingly animated as his inquisition went on, made that remark. The fact United kept a clean sheet provided further evidence that their rearguard was equipped and well-choreographed enough to cope with attackers such as Pepe, Arsenal’s £72m signing from Lille, who had fluffed his lines during the opening exchanges. Being ruthless - taking chances when they present themselves - is a prerequisite for success in the Premier League. United did and Arsenal, despite the talent at their disposal, didn’t.

Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder gestures on the touchline: LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images

Sunday 1 December 2019, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 Sheffield United

When United had returned to the Championship, following their League One title triumph during Wilder’s first season at the helm, they had suffered a torrid evening under the lights against Nuno Espirito Santo’s team. Indeed, after losing 3-0, Wilder admitted his players had just faced the best in the second tier by some margin. Wolves, of course, would go on to win promotion at a canter. Twenty-two months later, United returned and showed what giant strides forward they had taken in such a short space of time. In fact, after Mousset had fired them into an early lead, profiting from George Baldock’s cross, United probably felt slightly aggrieved to have only drawn after failing to exploit a couple of good openings before Matt Doherty met Raul Jimenez’s excellent centre. Wolves came on strongly during the closing stages, with Adama Traore causing a number of problems, but United held firm. The most important thing to emerge from this fixture was how United illustrated how much they had improved since their last meeting with a club which, fuelled by a Chinese conglomerate, have made a huge impression on the top-flight themselves.

Sunday 29 December 2019, Manchester City 2-0 Sheffield United

Despite Liverpool’s dominance of the Premier League title race - City, the reigning champions, finished this match 14 points behind their North-West rivals - this fixture represented arguably the greatest test of United’s system since Wilder’s arrival at the club. It was certainly the greatest threat to an away run which, until Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne pounced after the break, had seen United avoid defeat on the road since January. Although that unbeaten sequence ended here, events during the match itself saw United answer two key questions. After pushing Liverpool so close three months earlier and then claiming Arsenal’s scalp, the sight of City having to wait until the second-half to break down the visitors confirmed United could compete with the best the division had to offer. City, after surviving a scare when Mousset had a goal disallowed following a VAR review, also required a little help from referee Chris Kavanagh in order to edge in front; the official getting in the way of Fleck before Aguero fired home. Pep Guardiola’s men probably take up better positions and move the ball more intelligently than anyone, though, so United arrived knowing that any lapse in concentration would prove crucial. Although they adapted their 3-5-2 system, lining up with five at the back until Aguero struck, they still created overloads along the flanks whenever they were in possession, with centre-halves Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham charging beyond Enda Stevens and George Baldock when the situation allowed. In August, one former professional turned pundit had warned United they would definitely get relegated if they persisted with this approach at the highest level. Guardiola, a master tactician, clearly thought otherwise saying “You can see why they are doing so well”, after watching United return home in eighth.

Sheffield United's Dean Henderson has overcome adversity to emerge as one of the best goalkeeper's in the Premier League: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Saturday 7 March 2020, Sheffield United 1-0 Norwich City

The near three month gap between my penultimate and final choice is revealing in itself. The longer the season has gone on, the less surprised you become when United win games. In fact, the element of surprise has now completely gone. Wilder and his staff, together with the club’s hierarchy, are preparing for next season to be even tougher than this one. History suggests it probably will be. But United are a team who, with their inventive tactics and determination to attack the division rather than play the role of happy tourists, constantly defy expectations and rewrite the rules. Daniel Farke’s side arrived at the foot of the table but boosted by a battling win over Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup. And, having pipped United to the Championship title a year earlier, eyeing the visit to Bramall Lane as a chance to prolong an improved run of form which also included a fine display against Leicester City. Then there was the simmering rivalry which developed between these two clubs during their recent meetings in the second tier to throw into the mix. That, combined with the fact City were fighting for their lives, made them very dangerous opponents. Very dangerous indeed. Henderson, aided and abetted by David McGoldrick’s goal line clearance, denied Farke’s men a point during the closing stages and ensured Sharp’s effort proved enough to take the points. Continuing their push for European football, the result showed United can battle against supposedly unfashionable names the same way they do when famous ones come to town.

*Let us know via social media if you agree.

Sheffield United supporters have seen their team beat Arsenal and trouble Liverpool at Bramall Lane in the Premier League this season: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Defenders John Egan, Jack O'Connell (C) and Chris Basham (R) of Sheffield United applaud the fans: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
John Fleck, pictured here in action against Norwich City, has produced some excellent displays this season, including when Arsenal visited Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is a big admirer of the way Sheffield United play football: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Billy Sharp of Sheffield United celebrates with teammates after scoring their team's goal during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Norwich City: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images