BLADES fans really can't ask for more. Of course, the manager will and the only misgiving at the beginning of 2019 was Chris Wilder’s omission from the New Year’s honours list.
Sheffield United have entered the New Year with every chance of returning Premier League football to Bramall Lane and it’s not just wishful thinking. It’s been a particular privilege to watch Wilder’s United this season – FA Cup exit to non-league Barnet apart – and that is speaking as someone who has been watching the Blades on a regular basis since 1970.
There has been some nonsense mentioned about how this team is comparable to the side which won promotion to the top flight in 1970-71, Currie, Woodward and all.
Don’t be fooled, it’s nowhere near and I would venture that anyone old enough and lucky enough to have witnessed those Blades of yesteryear would disagree. But that is not to diminish what would be a remarkable achievement by a group of far less talented players who nevertheless have dug in and gelled to put themselves on the brink of earning their own special place in United’s long history.
Of the current squad I would suggest only two players would have been in the mix for gentleman John Harris’s band of brothers and only one a Wilder signing, Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson.
The England Under 21 goalkeeper would have almost certainly have ousted John Hope but not Hope’s predecessor the legendary Alan Hodgkinson. Billy Sharp for his prowess in front of goal would surely have made the grade.
Back to today and now the ball is firmly in the court of club co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah to give United a leg up the ladder towards the Premier League.
This is not loose talk. Thanks to Wilder and his wonderful squad which is managing to overcome well-documented limitations, coping and maturing manfully, it's a serious possibility.
As every supporter knows, however, to take full advantage Wilder needs his bosses to demonstrate they have the club’s best interests at heart.
That’s a big ask when the relationship between both men has long since broken down. Replaced by mistrust as they are locked in a bitter and prolonged battle to rid one or the other from the club and assume full control.
The silence is deafening as far as communication with a loyal fan base is concerned. From what Wilder has said in public over the last few weeks, however, it sounds very much like he’s non the wiser. Either that or he is conducting a covert operation to blindside his rivals in the January transfer window.
Everton Under-21 international Kieran Dowell, an attacking midfielder who spent last season on loan at Nottingham Forest, has already arrived. Unfortunately for him he made his entrance in a much-changed line-up against Barnet which produced the worst performance under Wilder’s reign.
Hopefully he will prove to be more useful than the man from the other side of Stanley Park, Liverpool prospect Ben Woodburn who for whatever reason made little impact and was offered scarce opportunity during his loan stay.
Former Sheffield Wednesday striker Gary Madine’s controversial loan from Neil Warnock’s Premier League Cardiff City is a gamble. Literally a shot in the dark. There is no love lost between the 28-year-old and Blades fans who are still banking on the addition of a top quality striker by the end of the month. But whether Wilder can fund the kind of wages such a player would demand remains to be seen.
All will have become clear by this time next month. In the meantime Blades fans can only keep their fingers crossed and reflect on what has been a monumental two-and-a-years under Wilder.
The festive fixtures epitomised everything the manager has brought to Bramall Lane.
Nine points, starting with a Boxing Day blockbuster against close rivals Derby County. And another test of character after being wrongly reduced to ten men against Blackburn Rovers. 56,358 packed into the Lane for those two festive fixtures. Five goals scored, just one conceded.
Three more goals without reply at Wigan Athletic, a comfortable and comprehensive victory, kicked off the New Year in style. United sit third in the Championship table, two points from an automatic promotion place, four behind leaders Leeds United and with a eight-point cushion in the play-off positions.
Blades skipper Billy Sharp’s two goals at the DW Stadium, adding to his brace in the 3-0 win against Blackburn, clinched his place as the top scorer in English league football . Now level with Ricky Lambe this century. His 220th strike surpassing former Southampton teammate Rickie Lambert’s 219.
There is so much to play for over the next six months. Ironic, then, isn't it that United have almost got all their ducks in a row after years of strife and the only barrier remaining is purely self-inflicted and out of the manager’s control.
The possibility of top flight football, not forgetting a £190million jackpot for getting there, is well within reach. Promotion, however, despite the riches on offer will come at a price. United would have to smash the wage structure and conduct a major and expensive overhaul of the squad if they want to stay there.
Which may explain why McCabe, and in particular Prince Abdullah, are reluctant to show their hand. Whoever wins the battle for control of the club would have to be prepared to quickly foot a large part of the bill.
What we do know is that even without their full backing, Wilder and his squad will attempt to pull off the extraordinary all on their own. The race to reach the Premier League will only intensify and some, like the Blades last season, won’t go the distance.
But right now it would be foolish to back against them.