July 18, 2024

Forget Chris Wilder – only one manager can save Sheffield United from absolute doom

Nobody knows punishment like a Bramall Lane season ticket holder. Over the course of their past four home matches in all competitions, Sheffield United have conceded 21 goals, and if the Blades they continue on their current trajectory/death spiral, there is a strong possibility that Chris Wilder’s men will smash through Derby County’s record low Premier League goal difference of -69 between now and the end of the campaign.

Indeed, to watch them capitulate in the manner that they did against Arsenal on Monday night – finding themselves 5-0 down by half time and eventually going on to lose to the tune of six – it is almost a marvel that United are not in contention to break the Rams’ record low points tally too. In his post-match press conference, when Mikel Arteta suggested that the Lane was a ‘difficult place to come’, you suspect he was just trying to be polite.

But the time for hollow courtesy has long since passed. To watch Sheffield United, unravelling on a weekly basis and 11 (essentially 12 with that GD) points from safety with a dozen games left to play this season, is to witness a side doomed for an immediate return to the Championship. For them to wriggle free of this predicament would be to enact one of the greatest escapes the top flight has ever seen.
It certainly isn’t going to happen under Wilder – not that you would necessarily expect the Blades to change managers at this stage of the campaign, of course. Having already ousted Paul Heckingbottom to bring the 56-year-old back to Bramall Lane, you would imagine that the contingency plan is that there is no contingency plan, and that Wilder’s appointment is one as much designed for a promotion push next season as it was a survival bid this term.

But if, by some minor miracle, United do decide that they actually want to try and stay in the Premier League this year, then there are options available to them. Plenty of managers are out of work at the present moment, but perhaps none are quite as appealing as Steve Cooper.
The Welshman has been jobless since he left Nottingham Forest in December, and despite being linked with a plethora of vacancies, is still yet to take the plunge back into full time management. There are those who believe that he should never have been let go by Forest in the first place, and those who are thoroughly convinced that his next move should be one that takes him back to the Premier League. United could at least offer him that… for now.

In truth, regardless of whether they stick with Wilder or not, or who they decide his potential replacement should be, the reality is that the Blades find themselves in a position that is very probably irrecoverable. That being said, Cooper is a talent with pedigree, and if anybody could lift this dejected dressing room, it is him. He has proven himself to be handy in a relegation battle, and perhaps more pertinently, he also knows what it takes to win promotion to the Premier League – even if it requires running the gauntlet of the Championship play-offs.
Again, all this chatter might be for nought. There are certainly no immediate indications that Wilder’s position is in trouble, even as his side circle the drain with an ever-increasing apathy. But if Sheffield United want to go down swinging, rather than dropping like a slab of concrete, they could do far worse than giving Cooper a try.

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