Sheffield’s FA Cup pride makes me feel guilty about what follows here. Certainly, it presents a startling comparison between a convincing win at a Premier League club and a brave, narrow defeat at the home of the champions.
But here goes. When was the last time Sheffield’s two grounds saw so few goals in the first half of a season? Anyone who can answer that question is going to have to do without a life for some considerable time.
Unless I’m very wrong, it’s going to take plenty of midnight oil and a serious loss of sleep to answer that one. But part of an intriguing, ongoing puzzle is that neither club is undergoing anything that can remotely be termed a crisis. Far from it.
By comment consent, Stuart Gray is punching a little above the weight of his Sheffield Wednesday squad in the top half of the Championship. And although United’s distance from the top two in League One is a serious concern, Nigel Clough’s team should at least end up in the play-offs. Maybe at Wembley too. Now check those goal readings at Hillsborough and Bramall Lane. The Owls have clocked just six in 12 home matches at an average of 0.5 goals per match; United’s output is more than double but is still a major disappointment at 12 in 11.
Overall, that’s only 18 goals in 23 league matches at Sheffield’s professional grounds this season. Of course, both clubs can point to tight(ish) defences, hence their relatively healthy placings.
But football is an entertainment business and what the figures highlight above all is the quality of support commanded by both teams. Those hard core fans in both camps, providing regular crowds of up to and beyond 20,000, are due some sort of dividend in the second half of the season.
As to the reasons why goals have been so scarce, the most obvious is the lack of a regular marksman in either team. Beyond that, the main one would be a lack of extreme pace in forward positions.
However, it’s never quite that simple and, without making excuses, the support for Sheffield’s teams does tend to create a mentality in the opposition ranks that makes it awkward for both of them to win at home.
There is the presumption of a hostile atmosphere and of being put under pressure. Teams naturally set out to frustrate, looking to get big crowds on the back of home players. And if ever there was a reason to curb an over the top reaction from the stands, that is it.