Being a Sheffield United fan during the last few years has been painful to say the least. Relegations, play-off heartbreak, the Ched Evans saga and sales of their best players- the hurt may never be experienced by some football fans over a lifetime. But for Sheffield United, disappointment has gradually become a norm.
In 2016/17, the Blades entered their sixth season in third-tier League One. All six of those seasons have begun with optimism and by being backed as favourites for promotion by the bookmakers, looking on paper as though they should walk the league. But every season promotion was only ever a dream, and the United board must be scratching their heads wondering how their coaches are not delivering success.
Former managers Danny Wilson, Nigel Clough and Nigel Adkins have eight promotions between them and seemingly should have got the job done. However, three failed play-off campaigns in United’s five seasons of League One are the closest outcomes any manager has achieved.
Chris Wilder, Sheffield-born and a renowned Sheffield United fan, was appointed in May and immediately started a summer clear-out. Local boy Billy Sharp was made captain in what is his third stint at the Blades. Uninterested players and those who never performed were not given a clean slate like predecessor Nigel Adkins offered, Wilder instead brutally announced a transfer list of seven players and released a further ten, much to the delighted of the Bramall Lane faithful.
A Blade as manager, the ‘dead wood’ finally cleared and a few fresh faces, Sheffield United fans were suddenly feeling much more positive about the upcoming 16/17 season. “In Wilder we trust” was a phrase quickly spreading around social media. What could possibly go wrong?
Favourites again and expectations high, Sheffield United gained just one point from the opening four games and, after a 2-1 loss to Millwall, sat bottom of League One. Young starlets Che Adams and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were sold to clubs in higher divisions, just days after DCL’s England U20 call up. It was happening again. Boos started ringing, history was repeating itself and it looked as though United were going to be stuck in the English third-tier forever.
But fortunes soon changed. The arrival of goalkeeper Simon Moore and centre-back Ethan Ebanks-Landell revitalised the United squad as form spiked to a high, collecting win after win. Remarkably, after that loss at Millwall, the Blades have lost just one game in their 22 league games since.
The Bladesmen now sit as league-leaders in League One. Wilder’s passion and results have rocketed him to the fans good books once more, with new loanee Ebanks-Landell quickly becoming a fan favourite with his no nonsense attitude. Two players were removed from the transfer list as Wilder even managed to get Paul Coutts performing with strong displays in midfield, amidst becoming twitter-famous when on a girlfriend shopping spree and teenage girls captioning pictures as ‘goals’.
The feel-good factor has returned to the Lane and a different kind of optimism is filling the 20,000 plus weekly visitors. For the first time in a long time, Sheffield United have an element of fight on the pitch and are willing to grind for results.
The boos have deteriorated and are now replaced by new found faith in the team. It has been said time after time, but could this campaign be the season of promotion? Can luck finally run in Sheffield United’s favour? Could a fairytale story be written of two local boys who manage and captain their team to promotion? Only time will tell.
In Wilder we trust.