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Chris Wilder’s Return Brings Hope to Sheffield United

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Chris Wilder’s first Premier League win since being reappointed as Sheffield United’s manager wasn’t a perfect performance. Concerningly, the defensive frailties that were a constant feature under Paul Heckingbottom were evident against Brentford.

Wilder breathes life into Blades

The difference between winning and losing this time around, however, was an over-my-dead-body level of commitment that had long disappeared under Heckingbottom.

This was most notable when Vitaly Janelt got in behind the Blades’ defence in the second half and cut the ball back to Neal Maupay to open the scoring. As the Frenchman aimed, you could hear Bramall Lane suck the air into its lungs; the home crowd was under no illusions as to what happened next.

While a goal may have been a foregone conclusion under recently sacked Heckingbottom, it wasn’t under Wilder as Jack Robinson came charging out to throw his body at the ball – the result was that Maupay’s shot deflected inches wide for a corner.

The Blades went up the other end and scored the only goal of the game soon afterwards courtesy of a stunning James McAtee effort.

Suddenly, it seems there could be hope yet for Sheffield United in this new era.

Yes, Wilder appears to have restored his hometown club’s pulse but it’s an incredibly faint one. The reality is that it will still take a miracle to survive the season and indeed, if it were to happen, the feat would go down in Premier League folklore.

Ominously for the Blades, the latest Premier League online betting odds for relegation price the club, as of the 13th of December, at 1/8 to make an immediate return to the Championship. The problem for Wilder and the Blades is that there aren’t too many clubs showing relegation form directly above the drop to suggest that these odds are inaccurate.

The fight to survive

After all, Everton’s stay in the bottom three following a points deduction for breaching financial fair play rules was fleeting as Sean Dyche’s charges picked up three wins in four games to end any talk of relegation.

Bournemouth, meanwhile, have rapidly gone through the gears after a slow start under Andoni Iraola and now boast four wins in five games since losing 6-1 to Manchester City on November 4th. The last of those wins was an emphatic thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford – quite clearly, the Cherries are not wilting but rather spectacularly blossoming.

While Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest might be the exception with both clubs picking up one point from a possible 15 as of mid-December, they continue to hold a useful lead over the Blades. After matchday 16, Palace remain eight points ahead while Forest hold onto a six-point advantage.

If you had to choose, you would say that Forest is probably the most likely to be sucked into a relegation scrap, but while the City Ground faithful encircle the laagers around under-fire boss Steve Cooper, there is likely to be a siege mentality at the club that could prove to be beneficial.

A backs-to-the-wall approach under Cooper may not satisfy Forest’s ambitious owner Evangelos Marinakis but it was enough to help the club stave off relegation last season. The enigmatic Greek shipping magnate may be forced to revert to type after an indifferent start.

The respective fortunes of the Premier League’s basement clubs aside, the overall message is that there’s no easy route for the Blades to escape the hole they currently find themselves in.

The price of survival

If United are to stay up, then it will have to be done by winning games in the Premier League; an assignment that the club has so far been unable to do with any consistency. The one positive is that the much-spoken 40-point threshold needed to avoid relegation has become something of a misconception and is no longer accurate.

Over the last 10 seasons, the average number of points needed for survival was just 35.

With 22 games left to go, this means Wilder will have to find a way for his team currently on eight points, to average 1.3 points a game until the end of the season. Successfully doing this will ensure the Blades end the campaign on 36 points.

Of course, two games are never a big enough sample size to forecast bigger trends but Blades fans can take a small crumb of comfort in the fact that Wilder is averaging 1.5 points after 180 minutes back in the Bramall Lane dugout.

Going on the evidence from the first half of the season, it might be clutching at straws to suggest that this particular Sheffield United team has what it in them to finish above 18th.

While that may be true, Wilder also showed in his opening win against Brentford, there is hope.

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