Sheffield United: James Shield’s inside view

Sheffield United's Bramall Lane pitch, which is wet, but clear of snow thanks to the undersoil heating.
Sheffield United's Bramall Lane pitch, which is wet, but clear of snow thanks to the undersoil heating.
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MANAGER’S and players are fond of praising their respective side’s followers, writes James Shield.

More often than not such platitudes and attempts to ingratiate themselves with the terraces should be swallowed with a whacking great cellar of salt rather than tiny pinch.

There’s a club, which shall remain nameless but whose identity you can probably guess, fond of adding ‘The Fans’ to the bottom of their team sheet because, after all, they are ‘The Twelfth Man.’

Now call me a miserable old so and so but please? Pass the sick bucket.

Waffle like that just makes me want to heave. Even though, when I remove my journalist’s trilby, I’m as much a football supporter as anyone else.

However, recent comments to this effect emanating from Bramall Lane can be taken at face value.

Why? Because, in fairness to manager Danny Wilson and his players, they’ve also not been shy of criticising the rank and file when, rightly or wrongly, Sheffield United’s staff have felt hard done by.

And, given the demanding run of fixtures they face at the end of the League One season, it is not over-stating the point to say that the backing United will receive from the stands between now and next month’s visit of Preston North End is going to be of absolutely crucial importance.

Not so long ago, Wilson’s squad looked set to enjoy, in scheduling terms at least, a relatively sedate freewheel towards the finishing line with a run of six games in 30 days. Now they face the equivalent of scaling the Col Agnel during the final stage of the Tour De France after re-arranged contests with Crawley Town, Crewe Alexandra and Brentford were also squeezed into the final four and a bit weeks.

A situation which, coming after an already gruelling 44 match campaign, will push them to the limits of their mental and physical endurance. Not to mention complicate Wilson’s preparations by magnifying even the slightest glitch to his plans.

A slight muscle strain, for example, which might not usually rule someone out of a game could suddenly force them to miss a couple.

Given that Tony McMahon and Kevin McDonald are on the brink of automatic suspensions, the former Northern Ireland international could be forced to delve deeper into his options than he might ordinarily like at such a critical phase.

With preparation time already limited, the number of cautions collected increase during busy periods.

Wilson’s charges have averaged 1.5 per contest in their last four compared to exactly two over the festive programme.

All of which, most folk would agree, seems more than a tad unfair on someone who has already seen a previous bid for the Championship hijacked by events beyond his sphere of influence and which unfolded long before his watch.

United, it is often said, always do things the hard way. If they are going to achieve promotion, they must take the same route once again starting at Tranmere tomorrow.

Albeit, on this occasion, largely through no fault of their own.

*Twitter: JamesShield1