I heard a few people leaving the Lane last Saturday evening expressing concern that United had slipped out of the top two.
Out of the top two! Just think – at the start of August many Blades fans were expecting consolidation and hoping for a flirt with the top six. A finishing position around tenth to twelfth was perhaps the outcome forecast by most, and the majority of fans would have been happy with that.
It’s been interesting to see how Chris Wilder’s vocabulary has changed as the season has progressed. Early on he was talking about “getting a foothold in the division”, then after the defeat at Forest, in an ebullient post-match interview he talked about United having “landed” in the Championship. Now he is saying we are “in the mix”, as if it’s only dawned on him just now that we really are in with a chance of promotion.
These words were followed by comments about the need to strengthen the squad in January in order to maintain the promotion push, which is the first time he’s spoken along these lines. It’s possible that the loss of Paul Coutts and recurring injuries to Kieron Freeman and George Baldock have forced his hand in directing motivational hints towards Kevin McCabe and the Prince a few weeks earlier than he might otherwise have done.
Wilder added that two or three players could leave in January to make more funds available for recruitment. Blades fans can guess who these individuals might be, but I wouldn’t put it past Wilder to spring a surprise or two, even cashing in on one or two whose value has escalated these last couple of months but who he might consider wouldn’t be likely to make the next step up.
So who might Wilder be looking at for January? There can be little doubt that the research has already been done, and Wilder knows exactly who he wants, and that the club can afford them. I’m not going to speculate about possible individual targets, but central midfield is a priority, as is left-footed cover for the – so far – apparently indestructible Jack O’Connell. There might even be another right back (depending on the long-term prognosis for Freeman and given George Baldock’s propensity to break down), and a speedy striker to offer something the team doesn’t possess at the moment. This could possibly be another young loan player from a Premier League club.
But whatever happens from now on, there doesn’t seem any way United will be relegated. Even if the season goes belly-up and we finish 18th, it’s still been a fun one. But I don’t think that will occur.