What pundits are saying about Chris Wilder's Sheffield United - just months after many tipped them to go down
“The Blades are staying up!”
That was the chant which reverberated around Bramall Lane as ecstatic United supporters cheered off their side after watching them secure a hard-fought 2-1 win over AFC Bournemouth on Sunday.
It was no doubt sung tongue in cheek because, let’s be honest, it's European football the Blades faithful are dreaming of watching next season – even if manager Chris Wilder insists he isn’t.
Much has been said and written about Wilder’s side as the season has gone on and, with them sitting pretty in fifth place in the Premier League, the national spotlight is now firmly on United.
At the beginning of the campaign, you’d have been pushed to find a pundit or seasoned Fleet Street writer who would have backed against the Blades making an instant return to the Sky Bet Championship.
But six months on and with United just two points off the Champions League places, pundits, columnists, managers and former players alike are seemingly falling over themselves to lavish praise on Wilder and his men.
Only last week former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher hailed the Blades boss as a tactical innovator while on Monday Jose Mourinho, the Tottenham Hotspur boss, said United should be regarded as genuine contenders to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Praise for Mourinho can often be construed as mind games from the ‘special one’ and, if that’s the case, then the Blades should consider that to be a compliment.
And following Sunday’s victory, the love for United has continued apace.
Former Newcastle United and England striker Alan Shearer, writing in The Sun this week, described the Blades as a ‘breath of fresh air' and said Chris Wilder would ‘be manager of the year by a mile’ if it wasn’t for Jurgen Klopp’s exploits at Liverpool.
“He’s honest, hard-working and clear what he demands from his players,” said the Match of the Day pundit. “They repay their manager with the basics in terms of graft, team spirit and togetherness.
“When I say basics, this should in no way do them a disservice. Plenty of other big-name teams do not compare to Sheffield United in this way.
“Wilder’s tactical nous is clear as they’ve gone head to head with every club they’ve come up against.”
And former Arsenal and England defender Lee Dixon argues Wilder should take the manager of the year crown regardless of what Klopp achieves.
Speaking to the Daily Star, Dixon said: “Arguably he has done a better job than Klopp. It’s not just the results they’ve had it’s the way they’ve gone about the season.
“It’s the way they’ve gone about it, the crowd demand that from them. That place just seems to breathe hard work, that’s a given, you’ve got to give that.
“It’s not something you turn around and get praised for because that’s your job. The way that they are playing, he has surprised a lot of opposition, the way they are playing.”
Dixon’s former Arsenal colleague Paul Merson agrees, telling Sky Sports that Wilder would deserve the award if he guides the Blades into Europe next season.
“You’ve got to work out what you’re working with, and they were one of the favourites to get relegated – but at the moment, phenomenal,” he said.
“It’s not a fluke – when Chris Wilder was at Northampton and Oxford, he’s performed miracles everywhere he’s been.
“I watched Sheffield United play Arsenal at home earlier this season, and thinking ‘how is this man not manager of Arsenal?'”
Thankfully he’s not manager of Arsenal, but manager of fifth placed Sheffield United.
And who would have said – or predicted – that at the beginning of the season?