The most important thing about last Sunday’s result was that it meant United had gained a third of the points needed to stay up from one-fifth of the games played.
But, of course, that was nowhere near the most important thing about last Sunday’s result.
I was hoping during the summer that Chris Wilder would keep faith with the majority of last season’s champions and not go mad spending millions on average players, but there was never any danger that would happen. His biggest signing was that of experienced Championship centre half Richard Stearman, whilst small sums or nothing at all were spent on a few back-up players and a loan goalkeeper. In August there arrived a loan defender, another defender nobody had heard of, and an ageing striker for £50,000. Then there is the 31-year old defender playing at the highest level he ever has done in his career and not looking out of place. He knows exactly what he needs to do when he gets the ball – give it to Paul Coutts.
But Wilder’s signings were not made out of desperation at not being able to afford anybody better, but through canniness, meticulous research, and an astute knowledge of a player’s temperament and ability. He brought in players to fill specific needs. Such a method throws up bargain after bargain and enables players to be interchanged without a drop-off in performance. Freeman or Baldock, Stevens or Lafferty, Duffy or Carruthers, Clark or Donaldson, Basham or Carter-Vickers, Sharp or Brooks – it makes no difference.
Thus, only three of United’s starting eleven against Wednesday cost a transfer fee (one of them – Coutts – was signed by Nigel Clough). This rag-tag bunch straight out of the pub league comfortably beat illustrious, big-spending opponents whose fans scoff at anybody who costs less than £3 million, then saw off a top-three team who lavished £15.8 million on one player, £13 million on another and £7 million on yet another. In the process, with his burst of goals at the end of last season and his double of doubles this week, Leon Clark has more than paid us back for his seven goals against us for Wolves, Scunthorpe, Coventry and Bury, and for his dark days across the city.
It is, though, unlikely that United can keep this up for the whole season in the face of such affluence (or is profligacy?) at other clubs. But then Huddersfield Town did it last season, and Barnsley were doing it until circumstances dictated that they had to sell two of their best players in January.
And don’t forget that the top two managers in the division are proper, down-to-earth blokes without a hint of flashiness in either of them. And they’re both Blades.