Why this blast from the past is not so welcome

Iain Hume: Striker has been in fine form for Preston this season
Iain Hume: Striker has been in fine form for Preston this season
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HANDS-UP who thought they’d seen the back of international breaks, for the time being at least, when Sheffield United were relegated last season?

Even the hardiest of supporters could have been forgiven for coming over all queasy when they scanned through the fixture schedule earlier this year.

If a 46 game season isn’t enough punishment for relinquishing one’s Championship status, then a programme further congested by the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and a first round start in the FA Cup, (no lunchtime kick-offs against the likes of Forest Green or Farnborough please), definitely focuses the most blasé of footballing minds.

Those Saturday afternoons spent trying to make sense of Fabio Capello’s post-match Italianglish seemed a thing of the past.

Until, that was, Sheffield United’s visit to Preston North End tomorrow was postponed, at the Lancastrian’s request, when three members of Phil Brown’s squad were called-up by their respective countries.

A decision which, despite being perfectly within the rules, seems mightily unfair on those who spend their hard-earned cash cheering on both clubs from the terraces.

Doubtless the sympathetic noises emanating from Deepdale on Monday, when confirmation the Roses clash was being shunted back to October 19 was officially conveyed to the media, will not be replicated inside the customer relations departments of those rail companies with whom United followers in particular had bought tickets when applications for a refund start to flood in.

(With even the price of the shortest train journey now costing more than a fortnight long stay in the Savoy’s penthouse suite unless purchases are made 253 years in advance, monies wasted on now obsolete bookings are likely to be considerable).

With the euphoria surrounding United’s bright start to the new campaign fast being enveloped by clouds of gloomy hysteria, a theory has been espoused that Danny Wilson’s squad could actually benefit from the delay.

That it allows them more time to prepare for their forthcoming derby with Sheffield Wednesday.

This ignores the fact that, whatever happens, the fortunes of neither United nor their arch-rivals will ultimately be decided at Bramall Lane in nine days time.

And the physical and mental fatigue of taking part in such a contest will not have dissipated by the time they play, in a purely sporting sense, an equally important match against North End a little over 72 hours later.

United and Wednesday boast a combined total of only three wins from 12 outings following the last six derbies with four of those ending in defeats.

That is a grand total of 24 points dropped.

Many against teams both would, in normal circumstances, be expected to beat.

Brown’s desire not to lock horns with opponents he believes will challenge his team for a promotion place in May without Canada’s Iain Hume is understandable.

The striker, now preparing for World Cup qualifiers against St Lucia and Puerto Rico, has scored five goals so far this term and his partnership with Neil Mellor is a major factor behind Preston’s climb to third in the table.

But surely, if football truly is the people’s game, the authorities should have demanded an announcement was made much sooner?