Sheffield United Season Review: Second-Season Syndrome

Sheffield United

After their stunning exploits of finishing ninth in the Premier League in 2019/20, some had a quiet optimism about Sheffield United going into this campaign. Some, though, thought that something would have to give at some point and that it would all come crashing down. They were the ones who were right.

To say 2020/21 has been a horror show for the Blades would be an understatement. Yes, it was always going to be difficult. Yes, they had a lot of things going for them the season before that actually afforded them that top-half finish that they didn’t have now. But from start to finish, it’s been a season to forget for Sheffield United.

Sheffield United Season Review

Recap

In fairness, had their form in the second half of the season been matched in the first half, the Blades could have stayed up quite comfortably. It was their disastrous start to the campaign that set them on their way to a miserable bottom-of-the-table finish.

After starting with four straight losses, they picked up their first point in a 1-1 draw against Fulham – a late Billy Sharp penalty all that rescued them from adding another loss to the list. This wasn’t enough to kick them on though, and they went a further eight games without a point before their 1-1 draw against Brighton & Hove Albion.

Conceding goals wasn’t actually a particular problem. They had a far better defensive record than West Bromwich Albion above them, and they also bettered both Southampton and Crystal Palace in that respect, who survived comfortably. Scoring was their issue. By the time they picked up their second point of the season against Brighton on December 20, they had only scored eight goals in the league. To put it in perspective, Liverpool had reached that total by their third game.

By this point, it was clear to pretty much everybody that Sheffield United were one of the dead certainties for relegation. As much of a breath of fresh air they had been in the Premier League the season before, this campaign had just not been good enough.

Then, though, they enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. January 12 saw them pick up their first win of the season after another Sharp penalty secured a 1-0 win against Newcastle United. Then, on January 27, they stunned everybody by winning 2-1 at Manchester United courtesy of Kean Bryan and Oliver Burke. After a 2-1 win against West Brom six days later, suddenly there was even talk of a great escape.

Again, it unravelled. Four straight defeats followed before a surprise win against Aston Villa, then another five defeats eventually confirmed their fate – the 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers eventually being the deciding factor.

Worse still, in the middle of that five-game run, the news broke that influential manager Chris Wilder had left his role at the club, largely owing to disagreements with the board.

With their fate sealed, the Blades started playing with a bit more freedom under caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom. They won three of their last six games, all 1-0 against Brighton, Everton and Burnley respectively. The damage had already been done in the first half of the season.

Best Moment

Any of the wins could probably be argued as the best moment of the season for Sheffield United, given the sparsity of them. However, there’s no doubt that the 2-1 success at Old Trafford was the most surprising of them.

Injuries had left the Blades needing to field Kean Bryan, someone who had barely had a look-in for them even when in the Championship. Obviously, then, it was his goal that set them on their way.

Even though Harry Maguire, a former Blade himself, threatened to ruin the party with an equaliser for the hosts, Sheffield United re-took the lead shortly after when Oliver Burke drove past David De Gea and handed his side an unlikely three points.

Worst Moment

There’s plenty to choose from, for sure. But losing Chris Wilder will be a bitter pill to swallow for many Sheffield United fans, not least because he was a fan just like them.

The boyhood Blade had taken over at the club when they were in League One, and he even got off to a terrible start – they were bottom of the table in the third tier having picked up just one point in their first four games.

They roared back though and eventually went on an imperious run to the title, picking up 100 points on the way.

Then came the Championship, where an impressive tenth-place finish was followed by automatic promotion in the next campaign, finishing second to Norwich City.

Sheffield United achieved so much under Wilder in such a short space of time. There’s no doubt he will go down as a legend at the club, and losing him will have been painful for so many.

Player of the Season

In situations like this, it feels only right that it should go to the top goalscorer, and that was David McGoldrick, who scored eight times in the league and nine overall. Seeing as the next best after that was Billy Sharp with three, it’s fair to say this season could have been even more disastrous without McGoldrick in the team.

There has been no suggestion so far that the Blades are in danger of losing their star forward, so at the moment they will planning for life in the Championship with him.

What Next for Sheffield United?

The club have moved quickly to appoint Slavisa Jokanovic as their new manager in preparation for their return to the second tier. The Serbian, who is their first-ever overseas manager, has achieved promotion from the Championship twice in his career, with Watford and Fulham. Sheffield United will be hoping they will be the third team to go on his list.

There haven’t been any confirmed arrivals yet, although they have confirmed that Phil Jagielka, John Lundstram, Simon Moore and Jack Rodwell will be departing the club.

Given that the squad who competed in the Premier League was largely one that had played in the Championship for the club anyway, there doesn’t really need to be wholesale changes.

Players like Oli McBurnie and Rhian Brewster who failed to justify their big price tags will get a chance to finally do so, while it will give more of an opportunity to bed in exciting youngsters like Antwoine Hackford and Daniel Jebbison. The return of Jack O’Connell from injury will be a massive boost, too.

There’s no reason why Sheffield United cannot compete for promotion. This is a team that knows how to compete, they just need to rediscover that winning touch again.

 

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