By Josh Zealand
It’s typical of the Championship for any team in the division to be able to beat another, regardless of position and form. But after Sheffield United clinically dispatched a high flying Middlesbrough last Tuesday, they looked certain to finally nail down their spot in the playoffs.
The Blades then travelled away to Coventry on a sunny afternoon away day, followed by 4000+ Unitedites with a skip in their step. A win for Paul Heckingbottom’s side would take them fourth, right on the tails of third and putting the pressure on second placed Bournemouth who looked certain for the automatic spot just weeks ago.
United took the lead at Coventry inside 16 minutes, with Sander Berge heading… yes heading the ball into the back of the net. The away end erupted and it looked as though it was money well spent for the travelling Blades. However in true Sheffield United fashion, they found themselves 4-1 down by the 68th minute, and the Sky Blues looked like putting four more past the helpless Wes Foderingham in the United goal.
That awful defeat now leaves the Blades in sixth place, with at least four teams, including Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough, breathing down their necks.
Hardcore Sheffield United Zach Thorpe, gave me his view of the inconsistent form of The Blades and we discussed where the the problems lie.
“It hasn’t been an ideal season, far from it. The shambles surrounding the arrival of Slavisa Jokanovic meant that Paul Heckingbottom wasn’t walking into an easy situation.
Jokanovic tried to erase five years worth of tactical structure, only for Heckingbottom to bring it back after three months. The fact he’s got us into the mix for Premier League football next season proves that he’s done a very good job since November.
However, injuries are beginning to pile up, players are having to play out of position and unseasoned young lads are being thrown in at the deep end. There hasn’t been many opportunities since since Christmas to name unchanged sides.
The inconsistencies of this squad have never been better demonstrated than this week. Dug in and battled hard to get a point against Nottingham Forest when we were outplayed for the majority of the game. Demolished an in-form and well-drilled Middlesbrough side, making them look like relegation candidates rather than promotion contenders. And then were outplayed, outfought and out-thought at Coventry, who were without their manager and assistant manager.
In that game, League One Wes made two errors which led to goals but also made 11 saves, the most of any Championship goalkeeper. Having your goalkeeper as Man of the Match in a 4-1 drubbing is an indicator as to what type of display we saw at Coventry. With Fulham and Bournemouth seemingly as good as promoted, our squad is by far the strongest in the current playoff places. If we can avoid injuries and get more players back on the bog at Shirecliffe then we would be a very short favourite to go up.”