James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: Why being a footballing bully is no bad thing

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It does not require a promoter of George Lewis Rickard’s talents to sell tomorrow’s match between Sheffield United and Scunthorpe.

First versus second in the table and 25,000 plus people expected to flood through the turnstiles, if he was still alive then ‘Tex’ would probably quite fancy a piece of this League One clash at Bramall Lane.

As Chris Wilder acknowledged during yesterday’s pre-match press conference, “It’s going to get hype and it’s going to get coverage. I’m not going to spin it, saying it’s just another three points because it isn’t. This is a big game.”

But even though victory might see Wilder’s team move eight clear of their nearest challengers, the result will not settle the outcome of this season’s title race. Because, as the facts and figures suggest, those are decided during less glamorous fixtures. At places like Port Vale and Oldham. Or windy nights in the south-west where, despite omitting the likes of Billy Sharp, Mark Duffy and Kieron Freeman from their starting eleven, United secured a creditable draw against Bristol Rovers in midweek.

With hindsight, that stalemate at the Memorial Stadium was probably an opportunity lost. Although they were pegged back during the closing stages, Wilder’s players dominated for long periods only to discover their rivals from Lincolnshire had been held by Walsall and, more importantly, third placed Bolton Wanderers had claimed a late win.

With Phil Parkinson’s side scheduled to visit on February 25th, United’s next two matches are obviously of critical importance. But perhaps more so in a psychological rather than’ promotion race’ sense.

Sheffield United drew 0-0 with Bristol Rovers on Tuesday: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sheffield United drew 0-0 with Bristol Rovers on Tuesday: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Bolton, of course, have already beaten United once in the competition this term. But they trail them in the rankings because, ultimately, they are less effective during fixtures with struggling clubs. If only results against those in the bottom third of the rankings counted, United would still be five points clear at the summit. Bolton, though, would be nine points further back in fifth.

At Premier League level, the pattern is the same. Chelsea currently lead the way despite losing to Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. But they are much more ruthless against those fighting relegation.

Liverpool lead the way when it comes to ‘top third versus top third’ contests in the PL. However, they are only the eighth best in the division at overcoming those in the bottom third.

Food for thought I’m sure you agree.

Chris Wilder addresses his team after the match in midweek: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Chris Wilder addresses his team after the match in midweek: Simon Bellis/Sportimage