Why Sheffield United should already be above AFC Bournemouth this season

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In football, we’re frequently told, luck tends to balance itself out. If that particular cliché is true, then Sheffield United are surely destined for the Premier League this season after saving up what seems like a season of misfortune for the promotion race’s final straight.

Four huge and questionable – if we’re being kind – decisions have gone against the Blades in their last five games alone, with the most ridiculous saved for last against Bournemouth on Saturday afternoon.

Referee Dean Whitestone somehow failed to point to the spot after Morgan Gibbs-White was almost split in two by Nat Phillips, following on from another very good penalty shout away at Stoke when Rhys Norrington-Davies was fouled at 0-0.

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If we can stray into the realms of fantasy football for a second, five extra points from those two games would have put United third and just two behind second-placed Bournemouth. Go back a couple of games further and two points dropped after two disallowed goals at Blackpool – one questionable, the other bordering on ludicrous – would have United level with the Cherries. Who also, by way of recap, benefitted from a penalty for a foul yards outside the box and a goal that should have been ruled out for offside when they beat United earlier in the season.

This is not a “woe-is-United” column attempting to paint them as the victim of some sort of witch-hunt from the EFL, FA or FIFA, all conspiring to prevent them getting back into the Premier League for whatever reason.

But Oli McBurnie hit the nail on the head in his post-match interview after the Bournemouth debacle. “I asked the referee for an explanation and he couldn't come up with anything,” the striker said. “He just told me to move away. I asked him politely and not so politely and both times he told me to move away.

“We make mistakes like that and we're held accountable for them, so I think it's only right that they are as well.”

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Sheffield United's players could not believe they dropped two points against AFC Bournemouth at the weekend: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United's players could not believe they dropped two points against AFC Bournemouth at the weekend: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United's players could not believe they dropped two points against AFC Bournemouth at the weekend: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

What did Whitestone see, or not see, that the rest of Bramall Lane either did or didn’t? Why didn’t he heed the advice of his linesman, who – according to Morgan Gibbs-White – told the referee that it was a penalty? Have United benefitted from such a slice of good fortune so far this season?

If they have, it doesn’t spring immediately to mind. The same certainly can’t be said for the Cherries, according to an email from a Blade called Jeremy Gilmour that landed this morning. At least half a dozen penalty claims from opponents, serious enough to warrant mention in match reports, have gone in Bournemouth’s favour since the season began and a number of big calls in the build-up to goals – including one against West Brom by Whitestone – have also gone their way.

To be only eight points behind the Cherries - considering their contrasting fortunes this season and the relative depth of both squads at the weekend amidst United’s injury crisis - perhaps highlights how well United have done since their resurgence began back in November.

Now, as they look to get the job done, a few slices of the fortune afforded elsewhere between now and the end of the season wouldn’t half come in handy.

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