One point, two places and thirty miles separate Sheffield United from Bradford City.
But these Yorkshire rivals, who meet at Valley Parade tomorrow, have more in common than form, geography and the fact they are managed by folk who played for both clubs players.
Chris Wilder and Stuart McCall, who made 89 appearances for the visitors before serving his coaching apprenticeship on Neil Warnock’s backroom staff, know the fate of their respective teams could well be influenced by the whim of a counterpart elsewhere. Wilder will he hoping Walter Zenga does not recall Ethan Ebanks-Landell in January following his commanding performances since leaving Wolverhampton Wanderers on loan. McCall, meanwhile, knows he must keep the guy across the technical area sweet or risk losing Marc McNulty midway through his own respective loan.
The temporary transfer market is a vital source of talent for Football League clubs. Admittedly, many of the deals on offer are duds. But intelligent shoppers, as United demonstrated when they acquired Ebanks-Landell and Daniel Lafferty from Molineux and Burnley, can unearth some real bargains.
Given that he prefers to talk about “the group” rather than individuals, Wilder has refused to go overboard about Ebanks-Landell’s importance to the United cause. True, the 23-year-old has brought the best out of fellow centre-halves Jake Wright and Jack O’Connell. O’Connell and Wright, however, also allow Ebanks-Landell to do what he does best.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that he has become an almost indispensable member of Wilder’s team. United average 0.5 points per game without Ebanks-Landell this season compared to 2.5 with him in the team, Just as importantly, given the positive effect it has had upon United’s goal difference, he also helps them keep clean sheets. With O’Connell and Wright signed on a permanent basis during the close season, Bramall Lane’s hierarchy are understandably keen to reach some sort of agreement with Wolves regarding Ebanks-Landell’s future before the window re-opens in three months time.
Although United will not want to leave themselves exposed, they are in a stronger position than City when it comes to retaining McNulty’s services. If the Scot, who scored his first goal for McCall’s team against Southend in midweek, begins firing City towards promotion then Wilder, who sanctioned his departure soon after taking charge, might well be tempted to drag him back to United. Whether he would be involved or not. Football can be a dirty business and, although recruiting a key player on loan is always fraught with danger, at least Wilder knows a direct rival does not have the power to influence his season. The same can not be said of McCall.