Preston away was clearly the hardest test United have faced since the unbeaten run began – harder even than Fulham, Forest and Charlton, says Matthew Bell.
To say they came through it with flying colours would be stretching it, but at least they came through it without the colours being lowered. Wolves tomorrow will be even more testing.
Regardless of how United fare for the rest of the season, thoughts are already turning to 2014/15. United’s uninterrupted progress in February and March, the presence of a well-thought-of manager and the financial boost provided by the cup run will see the Blades rightly amongst the favourites.
Whenever so-called ‘big’ teams have fallen to this level in the recent past they have got out within three years (Leeds, Forest, Man City, Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Wednesday twice) and United have now been here three years. United were unfortunate in the first year that there were three other excellent teams, and in the second year didn’t quite have the players despite being the ‘biggest’ team in the division.
This is why we need Wolves to get promotion and for Wednesday and Birmingham not to get relegated. Finance rules (or it should do) even in League One, and clubs with the largest income ought to have a major advantage over the rest. In this case there would be no other club to touch United in terms of attendances and associated revenue.
The strictures of the Salary Cost Management Protocol in force in League One means that clubs cannot spend more than 60% of their turnover on players’ salaries, which some supporters still apparently fail to understand.
This year’s cup takings go towards that turnover, as will season ticket sales in the summer, so United will be able to attract better-quality.