Traditionally speaking Sheffield United would be seen as a club who would fleet between the top and second tier, spending the majority of their more modern history in the second flight of English Football. The Blades’ all-time low came in 1981 when they spent a lone year in the fourth tier. The decade that followed this blip in their history resulted in a series of promotions which saw them grace the top tier less than ten years later. The Blades spent several years at the top before slipping down to the Championship, where they would spend the best part of two decades (except for a single year in the Premier League in 2006/07).
Chris Wilder and Sheffield United: Rags to Riches
Sheffield United established themselves as a regular, if generally unspectacular, Championship side throughout the noughties. However, the start of the new decade saw the club hit their lowest trough of the modern era. In the 2010/2011 season, the Blades finished 23rd in the Championship and sank down to England’s third tier for only the third time in the club’s history.
Between 2011 and 2015 United were fairly competitive, reaching the play-offs on three occasions without getting promoted (third, fifth, seventh, fifth). In the 2015/2016 season, though, came arguably the club’s darkest season since they sank to the bottom tier in 1981. The Blades finished 11th that season after a promising opening few games. On the 12th of May in 2016, Nigel Adkins was sacked less than a year after taking charge at the club.
Chris Wilder Takes Charge
Following a rather disappointing season in League One, ex-player and lifelong Sheffield United fan Chris Wilder was brought in to replace the outgoing Nigel Adkins as manager. Wilder wasn’t blessed with a huge budget to revitalise the Blades, and a lot of his signings were free transfers. One of Wilder’s most important additions wasn’t even a new signing, it was the continued form of Billy Sharp. Sharp, another Blades fan, in his third stay at the club, was made club captain at the start of the season. Sharp would go on to score thirty league goals that season.
Wilder’s time at Sheffield United didn’t exactly get off to the greatest of starts. In fact, it wasn’t until the sixth game of the season that the Blades would record their first victory. Following this rough start, United’s fortunes would take a significant turn for the better. The Blades responded by going the month of September unbeaten, winning four and drawing one. From this point on the Blades didn’t look back, aside from a minor blip in their season in January. This brief downturn in form was preceded by only three defeats in three months and was followed by a seventeen match unbeaten run. The Blades secured promotion to the Championship on the April 8 and went on to win the league with a club record of 100 points.
Settling Back Into Life In The Championship
Chris Wilder was now entering his second season at the Blades, who found themselves back in the Championship for the first time in half a decade. The fans were unsure of what to expect. Over the course of the summer break, Wilder made several additions to his squad. This included the re-signing of Ched Evans and the signing of Irish full-back Enda Stevens on a free transfer.
United’s opening run of games really epitomised their season. Which was, to sum it up in a single word, inconsistent. Following one win from their opening three games, they went a run of four wins in a row. Throughout the season the Blades often followed winning runs with win-less runs. That said, their 10th place finish, although the team showed they could achieve much more, was far from a disaster in their first season back in the second-tier.
A Return to the Top Tier
On the back of their first season back in the Championship, Wilder only brought in one new signing and two loanees over the summer. The emphasis was instead placed on developing the squad he already had at his disposal.
The Blades’ season, once again, didn’t get off to a very good start. They lost the two opening games of the season but responded by winning four on the bounce. Not only that but between October and Christmas the Blades won only three games out of eleven. However, as they had done on numerous occasions, they fought back valiantly. This fightback saw them go just under three months with only a single defeat.
The Blades’ form from late March into early April looked like it had the potential to derail all of their hard work. A late, late equaliser from Millwall left the Blades three points adrift of Leeds United and six points adrift of Norwich City – who held a game in hand. However, three wins on the spin combined with points dropped by Leeds and Norwich has left the Blades six points clear of Leeds.
The Whites’ draw at home to Aston Villa the day after the Blades effectively secured their return confirmed everything Wilder’s side wanted to hear. Barring a minor miracle on their part, Norwich will go up as champions, but that won’t bother the fans one bit. Their return to the top tier is complete, with one man at the helm throughout.