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Sheffield United; Season Review 2006/07

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Stephen Orford


Due to the mild irritation of his disability Stephen Orford has never kicked a football in his life. However, he is a serious asset to any editor looking to comply with equal opportunities legislation....
[full biography]
19/06/2007 17:20:00.
read: 799 times.

Sheffield United’s stay in the Premiership was all too brief, but they made their presence felt both on and off the field.

The suggestion that season 2006/07 would end in relegation for the Blades was never that fanciful, but the circumstances surrounding their exit comes straight out of a Hollywood script.

So too, it seems, does the thought that the team will no longer be led by arch wind-up merchant and all round bad egg Neil Warnock. Yet just days after a final day defeat at home to Wigan Athletic confirmed United’s return to the second tier, Warnock walked away from Bramall Lane citing his ambition to manage at the top level. He’s still waiting for the phone call.

Before that 2-1 reverse to Wigan, and before all the hoo-ha and hum-drum surrounding the eligibility of the West Ham United playing register, Warnock’s men were making a pretty good fist of life among the big boys. Notable highlights included victories over Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at home and Newcastle United at St.James’ Park, while none of Liverpool, Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Middlesbrough or Blackburn Rovers could win in South Yorkshire.

The mark of 30 points was reached relatively quickly, but it was in the run-in that United floundered fatally. Just eight points were gained in their final 10 league fixtures, with wins over West Ham United and Watford adding to draws with Charlton Athletic and Everton during that period. The 3-0 success over the Hammers in April looked to have offered salvation, but the Hammers own blistering run saw them claw safe while United were downed by Chelsea, Bolton, Newcastle, Manchester United and Aston Villa before the final blow against Paul Jewell’s men.

United enjoyed little success in the cups this past term, bowing out of both the FA Cup and the Carling Cup by early January. Birmingham City won 4-2 at Bramall Lane in October’s League Cup clash, while a 3-0 home pounding by Swansea City in the third round of the FA Cup was another of the season’s major disappointments. Provisionally, the Blades face a first round derby in the 2007/08 Carling Cup at home to Chesterfield in mid-August, but discussions elsewhere could affect that fixture.

At the time of writing the Blades are still contesting West Ham’s £5.5million fine for irregularities in the registrations of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano in August, arguing that only a points deduction represents a suitable punishment. If the Premier League are swayed by those legal arguments then Sheffield United could yet be spared from a return to the Football League. Any deduction applied to West Ham effective in season 2006/07 would plunge Alan Curbishley’s men below United in the final table, thus saving the day for the Blades.

Yet so unlikely is this scenario that both the Blades and the Hammers have started planning for life in their respective divisions according to the current league standings. Bryan Robson has come in from the cold for another crack at management, and brings with him a reputation as a promotion specialist having gone up with both Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion during his chequered coaching career. He will have to do without Colin Kazim-Richards after the 20-year-old striker took up an offer from Turkish side Fenerbahce. Kazim-Richards qualifies to play for Turkey through his mother, and will bring around £1.75million into the Bramall Lane coffers.

Robson might be well advised to resist the temptation to use that money to bring in a straight replacement for Kazim-Richards, and instead strengthen elsewhere a squad that is already decidedly striker-heavy. Yet prospective transfer targets seem thin on the ground, yet another consequence of the continuing legal battles between United and the Premier League.

And so 2006/07 could still be a success, but it remains unlikely that United will be reinstated to the Premiership. Their Championship fixtures have been announced and published, albeit amid whispers from some cynics that their home and away dates are remarkably similar to those on the West Ham schedule. Just a quirk of the computer or evidence of an administrative contingency plan? Blades fans including Sean Bean will hope for the latter, but may be forced to accept that in the end, they just weren’t quite good enough to survive among the English elite.

By Stephen Orford

19 June 2007


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