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05/06: Preview: Sheffield United
Opposition opinion
by Blades fan Mick Nicholson

What happened last season?
You have two choices. Go stick Groundhog Day on, or read through this.

For the benefit of anyone preferring my ramblings to looking at Andie McDowell, last season was a truly depressing experience. Close your eyes and imagine you can hear the theme tune to "Murder She Wrote" - that's how many of us felt every Saturday at 3 pm.

Might seem strange that a comfortable top half finish and the rollercoaster FA Cup run, together with a 6-0 aggregate win over Leeds would lead to that conclusion, but there was a real sense of flatlining at BDTBL.

We were "thereabouts" all season, eighth to fifth, then back again, never able to hit a solid winning run and more importantly, never able to win the six-pointers. Neither robust enough (unbelievable to all outsiders familiar with Warnock) to stand up to physically bigger sides nor skilful enough to match the other contenders either. Just like the season before.

We went on a long losing run just after Xmas, just like the season before. We were promised some quality additions in the transfer window and got none, just like the season before. The quality of football deteriorated as the season went on, culminating in some of the most turgid, lumpen shapeless messes this side of Ms Feltz, just like etc etc

And - jltsb - amid the chaos our leaders chose the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil policy. Everything was fine, we were playing some great stuff, the dressing room was the best ever, the moaners should stay away and take it out on their wives or go to Meadowhall. Top stuff from Warnock, as per, but the Chairman topped it comfortably by issuing the pie and programme sales figures from the Arsenal replay to show just how much everybody wanted to come and watch us.

Depressing? You bet, but in the midst of the dark came a shaft of light. The Chairman went on Radio Sheffield for an hour's worth of calls from supporters and seemed genuinely shocked that for 55 mins of it no-one was remotely interested in the Academy project (which we now have to wait ten years to bear fruit as opposed to inital five-year plan has yet to work out) the Casino Narnia we were getting (pictures of Blade hereoes were replaced by artisits impressions of something like the Mothership in Close Encounters in the exec lounge areas) nor our development plans to conquer China, preferring to ask about on-field matters.

And all credit to the man, he's actually listened and done something about it....

What's going to happen next season?
...because he's found some money, previously denied - in an admission of sorts that his original dream of promotion without investment isn't working and there is a real danger of losing the fan base built back up over the last couple of years. Enter Danny Webber (500k) and Paul Ifill (800k), along with Lillian Nalis, Neil Shipperley and Chris Short. No speculative gambles for once and at least a part-cure for all the deficiencies of last year.

More importantly, the previously imperious position of Warnock has been reviewed. No other manager at any other club can possibly divide opinion like he can and there appears to have been recognition that not only does he get things wrong sometimes, but he's made the same mistakes two years running. The Chairman has in effect removed the comfort blanket of having no money to spend and has publicly said he expects much better this time round. For many, it's win/win. We either get a more positive team able to break the good-but-not-good-enough mould we have settled into, or a new manager to do so.

What will constitue success?? It's has to be play-offs minimum, but I can't help feeling there will be no lame ducks in the relegated trio and Leeds, Leicester and Wolves will be much stronger this time too. There will by dint of this be many more "six-pointers" and we simply don't win enough of them to challenge for a top two slot so in many ways the money we have finally spent may well only keep us where we are, rather than move us forward.

Can Warnock respond to the task or will Gilette Soccer Saturday have a new panellist come November? We'll know soon enough.

Soundbites(from assorted census correspondents)

"Wish every club had a fan making a similar site as yours." (awww, shucks - ed)

"My new local sells Carling at 1.59 a pint."

"This year we will get promoted. The reason? new signings? great tactics? big spending board? No, Black shorts, mark my words" (fool - ed)

"Most of our lads are northern, they should know how to make gravy!"

"If Neil doesn't have us in the top 6 by Christmas the fans will be booing. It will take us not being in the top 10 for him to get sacked though."

"Jagielka, future England captain"

"Wednesday have not won at Bramall Lane since 1967. That's an awfully long time. The Blades have not beaten Ipswich in 18 league games, stretching back to 1993. That's a long time as well."

"You should have inconsistant in the Gravy question"

"i must be mad, i have just paid 120 for 4 old wooden seats from our south stand for the garden, the wife has gone metal, isnt it great being a football fan"

"Most pirates had two perfectly good eyes, they kept one under a patch to make it ultra-sensitive when navigating by the stars at night"

"On the new Batman film there is an appearence of our 1990 kit (topically sported by Tony Agana when he played for us). It's worn by a young African lad who is given a bit of fruit by Bruce Wayne in one of his flahsbacks early on in the film. Just proof that Blades are everywhere. "