Will Sheffield United stage the greatest escape in Premier League history?
Sheffield United ended their long wait for a first league win of the season on Tuesday as Billy Sharp dispatched a second-half penalty to seal all three points against Newcastle at Bramall Lane.
It is the longest any side has gone without securing a victory in a Premier League season, the worst-ever start to a top flight campaign, and leaves the Blades in danger of posting an all-time record low points tally.
That title currently belongs to Derby, who had seven points at the same stage (to Sheffield United’s five) and went on to finish the season with 11 – incidentally claiming four of those points against Newcastle United.
“It feels good,” said Blades boss Chris Wilder. “We should have got more results, we know that, but the performance was good.
“We played with the identity that has been the way we have played for the last few years. We’ve had a load of tight games and we’ll take it.”
There has certainly been an injection of positivity at Sheffield United in recent days, with their first league win following hot on the heels of a 3-2 victory over Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup. Nine points back from safety, they still have a mountain to climb, but Sharp’s winner has at least offered a footing from which to kick on.
Time on their side
In terms of targets from here, the low benchmark is West Brom’s 34-point haul from 2004/05. That remains the lowest points total to earn survival in a 38-game Premier League season, but even that will require the Blades to bank 29 points from their next 20 games.
By comparison, they picked up 26 points from their final 20 games last term when they were brimming with confidence as top-flight newcomers and eventually finished 9th.
The Blades are in to 8/1 to pull off the greatest escape in Premier League history and one thing they do have on their side is time.
When Leicester were seven points from safety with just nine games to go in 2015 they needed a remarkable run – picking up 22 points from a possible 27 – to pull clear of the trap door.
Portsmouth (2006), Fulham (2008), and Sunderland (2014) have pulled off similar stunts in the final weeks of the season.
West Brom meanwhile were bottom going into the final day when a timely win – just their sixth of the entire campaign – over Portsmouth was enough to leapfrog Norwich, Southampton and Crystal Palace in 2005.
Blades’ problems not terminal
So who’s to say Sheffield United can’t do it with 20 games to go? “We’ve not had a great time in the last few months but we’ve got to keep our heads high now. We’re good enough to do it,” Sharp told Sky Sports on Tuesday night.
The Blades have scored the fewest goals in the Premier League this term but are 10th in terms big chances created – equal with Arsenal. It points to a wastefulness in front of goal but suggests the problem with Wilder’s team is not terminal.
Of course, taking chances is not the silver bullet – he must first address a frail defence.
“You start by sorting the defence out, because if we get a clean sheet we only need one goal to win,” said Sam Allardyce recently as he summed up the survival mission facing him over at West Brom.
Sheffield United’s first clean sheet of the season against 10-man Newcastle on Tuesday represented the first baby steps along that road. Now for the Blades it is just the small matter of Tottenham at home, before successive away trips to Manchester.
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