TIME for a reality check without the red and white-tinted glasses. Team and manager enjoy unprecedented backing from grateful fans only too happy to be back in the big time.
But if Sheffield United are to maintain their promising return to the Premier League two failings need to be addressed. And quickly. Or else the ‘look how far we’ve come’ merchants can start preparing for Championship football.
Unforced and costly errors at the back and a strikeforce yet to start earning its wages. The first being easier to resolve than the latter. Not a pessimist talking but unvarnished fact.
That is not to say United haven’t done enough to suggest the future is bright. They have. Averaging a fraction more than a point a match (nine from eight) Chris Wilder’s team have not once been outplayed over 90 minutes. Two wins, three draws and three defeats.
Stand-outs were the thrilling comeback at Chelsea to earn a draw after being 2-0 down and the 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool which epitomised the problem at large and could have ended so differently.
Coincidentally the only team to have conceded less league goals than the Blades this season. Jurgen Klopp’s European champions and current league leaders, for all their wealth and might, went so close to being undone on their recent visit to Bramall Lane.
A statistic to be proud of but unfortunately also one that proves the point. Had United not been so careless there would now be considerably more daylight between 13th-place and the bottom three. At the other end of the pitch only three teams have scored less than the Blades, Watford and Everton who occupy relegation spots and eternally troubled Newcastle United in 16th position.
So there you have it. Prone to let themselves down in front of their own goal and an inability to put away chances when presented. An equation which if continued over a full term can mean only one thing.
Consensus among supporters, meanwhile, is spot on. Satisfactory but capable of better as Sheffield United’s season grinds to a halt for another interminable international break. By the time a third one arrives in November the dye will have been cast and a breather more welcome. United will have played Arsenal and Burnley at home interspersed with trips to West Ham and Tottenham. Clubs currently occupying third, seventh, eighth and ninth places respectively.
The points total from which may well indicate what sort of season lies ahead; a period to bolster optimism or a sea change. Continue to keep their heads above water and there is every reason to believe United can build on what has been a promising re-introduction to the Premier League. Slip into the bottom three and life becomes a good deal more challenging.
To date United haven’t played under such pressure. Defeats, all three at home, are easier to take when you’ve stayed in the frame for much of the contests and just as importantly remained in mid-table. It is so different when you are sinking at the foot of the table and as time goes by every setback feels like another nail in the coffin.
“Sometimes the gaffer believes in us more than we do ourselves,” said defender Chris Basham after the draw at Vicarage Road. A match dominated by the Blades, who enjoyed 61 per cent possession but produced little goal threat.
Indeed, it was down to goalkeeper Dean Henderson, villain of the peace against Liverpool seven days earlier, that The Hornets didn’t claim their first win of the season. This against a team that have now failed to score in five of their eight league matches. The warning signs are there.
Now on duty with England’s squad for Euro 2020 qualifiers against Czech Republic, a 2-1 defeat, and Bulgaria after being drafted in as late cover for injured back-up keeper Tom Heaton, he made two crucial saves from Danny Welbeck and Craig Dawson. But it was only Andre Gray himself who prevented Watford going in front, skying a shot with the goalmouth at his mercy.
Any point on their travels is a good point but United shouldn't count on such profligacy in future. Continue averaging a point a match until the end of the season and it’s likely the Blades will be safe. But however you dress it up from what we’ve seen so far that appears unsustainable.
Warning signs are there and they must be heeded.