|WILD TIME: Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is leading his team to the promised land. AFP Photo.|
With all the hype and attention around a certain José Mourinho over the weekend, one small achievement would have passed many by.
Granted, Manchester United are far from the force they once were, but late Sunday night Việt Nam time, minutes before the final whistle, 23-year-old Oli McBurnie scored an equaliser to secure a point for Sheffield United.
The result means the team from South Yorkshire sit sixth in the Premier League, ahead of Manchester United, their weekend opponents, plus above Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham.
Before the United game, it was revealed Sheffield are paying their entire squad less than Man United currently pay striker Alexis Sanchez, and Sanchez doesn’t even play at Old Trafford, he’s on loan at Inter Milan.
When teams get promoted to the Premier League they often need a massive dose of luck just to survive. Not the Blades.
They have taken their introduction to the big time by the scruff of the neck and are not just punching above their weight, but are behaving akin to David toppling Goliath.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why they have done so well since the beginning of the season, but it is fair to say a lot, if not all, credit must go to their manager, Chris Wilder.
The 52-year-old’s playing career was pretty forgettable.
As a full-back between 1986 and 2001 he had two spells with the team he now manages and also played for Rotherham United, Notts County, Bradford City, Brighton and Halifax Town.
I’ll be honest with you, I’d never heard of him.
As a manager, he was in charge of Alfreton Town (who?), Halifax, Oxford and Northampton before taking the reins at Bramall Lane.
Let’s face facts here, he won’t win the Premiership with United, and although they currently sit in sixth place, it is highly unlikely his team will qualify for Europe at the end of the campaign.
But what they will do, and in fact have already done many times this season, is make life very, very uncomfortable for the big teams they face.
Their football is simple and although their style is uncompromising, they are very much getting results.
Chelsea and Tottenham could only manage draws when United travelled to London. Arsenal were beaten by them and so too were Everton.
When Liverpool, the champions of Europe, paid a visit to Sheffield back in September, the visitors needed a lucky deflection and a mistake by goalkeeper Dean Henderson to ensure they returned across the Pennines with three points.
So what next for the Blades? More of the same I imagine.
In January, when the likes of Mourinho and Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer splash the cash in the transfer window and spend jackpot lottery wins on a single player, Wilder will do what he does best and shop around the bargain basement for signings.
When the team got promoted back in May, I’ve no doubt every single Sheffield United fan would have wished for survival.
But now, as we approach the end of the first half of the campaign, they must all be on cloud nine.
No matter who they face, they will fear no one. And I’ve no doubt Pep Guardiola will be looking at the fixture list with some trepidation ahead of Manchester City’s trip to Bramall Lane in January.
Jurgen Klopp meanwhile as he attempts to lead Liverpool to their first ever Premier League title will certainly be breathing a sigh of relief knowing, albeit with a massive slice of luck, his team have already been to Sheffield and won.
As I said, Sheffield United won’t win the Premiership, but they will definitely play a major part in who does. VNS