It’s been a season to forget for Sheffield United and their supporters. Rooted to the bottom of the table for almost the entire campaign, the team has failed to produce the results which made them the surprise package of last season, finishing in the top half and dreaming of Europe. A lot changes in a short period of time in football, but the recent departure of Chris Wilder from the club by mutual consent came as a shock to everyone involved with the sport.
A disagreement over the future direction of the club seemingly led to Wilder heading for the Bramall Lane exits, and for their supporters it’s the latest disappointment in what has been a dire campaign. It was always likely that Sheffield United would experience some kind of slump this season after the dizzy heights of the previous campaign, but few expected such a dramatic comedown.
The Blades have won just four matches all season, and have drawn only two, making them safe picks for relegation in the Premier League odds. They are 14 points off safety with nine games remaining at the time of writing. It’s safe to say that, barring a true miracle, a return to the Championship awaits the Yorkshire club.
The question is, will the club ultimately rue the day they let Wilder walk out the door instead of hashing out some kind of compromise in the club’s plans for the future? This season had been the first time since Wilder took over at Bramall Lane that there hadn’t been improvement from one season to the next. It was the first bump in the road, but it has proven to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Wilder’s position as manager is concerned.
It was the shock of the news that supporters felt most. The club’s hierarchy hadpreviously demonstrated loyalty and level-headedness by not pushing the panic button this season, standing by the man who brought the kind of success they could never have imagined. The full facts of why that feeling changed are still unknown, but it seems as though the club have lost their best hope of regaining promotion, assuming they do go down.
If there is any criticism to be levelled at Wilder for Sheffield United’s misfortunes, it’s that the standard of recruitment was not good enough to compete consistently in the top half of the table. The £20 million arrival of Rhian Brewster from Liverpool has proved to be a disastrous bit of business, with the 20-year-old failing to make any kind of impact Bramall Lane. Oli McBurnie, who arrived the previous summer, has been similarly goal-shy. In goal, summer arrival Aaron Ramsdale has not proven to be of the same calibre as Dean Henderson, while Oliver Burke has also struggled to hit the right notes consistently for the Blades.
There is also a concern that the style of football which brought Sheffield United so much joy had become stale, and had been found out by many teams in the Premier League. For all that the Blades are well organised, there has been a dearth of creativity in the attacking third, and this has ultimately cost Sheffield United and made them unfavoured in Premier League tips. They might not have been dealt too many hammerings this season, but the lack of goals has cost them, and they are the lowest scoring team in the league with only 16 goals in 29 games.
But ultimately, fans will look at Burnley and manager Sean Dyche as a good example of why the club should have stuck with Wilder no matter what, and trusted him to bring them back up. Despite the Clarets’ relegation at the end of the 2014-15 season, they stood by Dyche and he repaid them by regaining Premier League status at the first time of asking. They have not dropped down to the Championship since.
While there may be doom and gloom around Bramall Lane at the departure of Wilder and the prospect of relegation, it is a chance to bring in someone new with time to get to know the squad ahead of a vital pre-season. It’s the end of an era, with Wilder’s five years in charge having been among the most exciting in the club’s history. Nevertheless, all things must come and go, and the only thing to do now is look to what lies ahead.