Sunday Mirror

Blades’ stay­ing power


IT MIGHT be tempt­ing to at­tribute the fact that Sh­effield United are still search­ing for their first win of their cam­paign af­ter seven at­tempts to ‘sec­ond sea­son syn­drome’.

You know the of­ten-floated the­ory that a team la­belled a breath of fresh air, quite of­ten af­ter time away from the top flight, have been ‘found out’.

A the­ory that sug­gests that play­ers en­er­gised to raise their game for a sea­son on Match of the Day can no longer sus­tain their lev­els when tasked with a sec­ond slog against the odds.

The one that claims that a man­ager her­alded last sea­son as a shrewd al­chemist has some­how mor­phed over one sum­mer into a di­nosaur in­ca­pable of adap­ta­tion.

It would be tempt­ing to spot the syn­drome here, par­tic­u­larly given the way Manchester City beat the Blades, at times leav­ing them cling­ing on to re­spectabil­ity. But it would be wide of the mark. Why? Be­cause sec­ond sea­son syn­drome does not re­ally ex­ist.

At least not in any quan­tifi­able way.

Of the last 30 teams pro­moted to the Premier League since 2009, 19 made it through their first sea­son to a sec­ond. Nine did worse the fol­low­ing year in­clud­ing four who were rel­e­gated.

The same num­ber, nine, did bet­ter in­clud­ing Leicester City who fol­lowed up a 14th place in 2015 by be­com­ing cham­pi­ons.

On the face of it, that pos­si­bil­ity can safely be ruled out for Chris Wilder’s hard­work­ing out­fit who could also strug­gle to match last sea­son’s 54 points or ninth-placed fin­ish.

But it would be a ma­jor sur­prise if Wilder and Co were rel­e­gated. In those seven games so far the Blades have lost by a sin­gle goal to As­ton Villa, Leeds, Ar­se­nal, Liver­pool and now City.

The one real dis­ap­point­ment was a 1-1 with Ful­ham, when a Billy Sharp penalty saved them.

Against Liver­pool they led at An­field for half an hour only to suc­cumb to a sucker-punch af­ter the hour mark. Here they with­stood an on­slaught from a City side who at times worked the ball like pin­ball flip­pers.

In the first half Ra­heem Ster­ling was un­playable for stretches and Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were a con­stant threat driv­ing from deep. But it is up front that the Blades’ short­com­ings show.

Wilder recog­nised this dur­ing the sum­mer and splashed out £23.5mil­lion on Rhian Brew­ster from Liver­pool. But he has yet to hit his straps. His best chance yes­ter­day came on the hour when he was clean through.

As it hap­pened he was off­side but his at­tempt to chip Eder­son rather than try to knock it around him (he was out­side his area) hinted at a player not feel­ing con­fi­dent.

Wilder ap­pears to favour pair­ing him with Oli McBurnie.

The for­ward is hard-work­ing and ag­gres­sive – he left Ruben Dias in a crum­pled heap in the first minute – but he scored only six goals in 36 league ap­pear­ances last sea­son and has yet to score this one.

He is keep­ing out the one man to score in open play this sea­son, David McGoldrick, and only be­cause he got just two goals in 28 last sea­son.

It is not enough.

Be­fore the game Pep Guardi­ola had said: “Sh­effield are one of the strong­est teams in the Premier League. Their po­si­tion in the ta­ble is an­other ex­am­ple of how strange our world is right now.”

The way Pep paced his area anx­iously af­ter Wilder’s men dug in, then threat­ened par­ity late with pres­sure, sug­gested the Blades WILL have enough for a third sea­son in the top flight.

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