WITH a third of the League One season gone, not too many people – if any – would have expected Sheffield United to be positioned outside the play-off zone.
But sometimes, keeping things in seasonal perspective can be useful.
Just ask Jose Baxter.
The Blades’ creative force, when speaking to the press ahead of today’s home game with Southend United, cast his mind back three seasons to 2012-13.
It was a campaign that was ultimately a forgettable one for the Blades, who lost out to Yeovil Town in the play-offs, with their South Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers being the ones who were hogging the local headlines after becoming champions on an incredible season finale at Brentford on April 27, 2013.
Rovers’ last-gasp 1-0 win at Griffin Park, with a goal from James Coppinger arriving 17 seconds after the hosts missed a stoppage-time penalty and the chance to clinch promotion and dump the visitors in the play-offs, may have been the story of that season.
But the fortunes of Bournemouth were not too far behind, with Baxter minded to recollect the rise of the Cherries that season to provide food for thought for his current club now.
At this stage of 2012-13, the Cherries were off the promotion pace in 12th place on 24 points – before a staggering charge in the second half of the season which ended in Eddie Howe’s side finishing as runners-up to Doncaster and almost pocketing the title for good measure before those late developments at Brentford.
Three years ago, Bournemouth were currently on the same amount of points as the Blades, who have played one game fewer and are lying in eighth spot, eight points leaders Walsall.
Another case study in the maxim of ‘it’s not how you start but how you finish’ was afforded by the Cherries’ south-coast neighbours Southampton, resident in League One in 2010-11.
Five years ago, the Saints were in 10th place after 16 games with 24 points, but ended the season sailing to automatic promotion to the Championship, but with much of the spadework done in the winter months.
Their manager? Step forward Nigel Adkins, whose current Blades crop have an identical amount of points after the same number of games as his Saints class of 2010-11.
Preaching the importance of patience, Baxter said: “I was at Oldham when Bournemouth went up.
“They beat us and I missed a penalty.
“That just seemed to get the little bit of luck they needed and everything just went from there. We just need to not panic and keep the faith.
“Most definitely, we’ve got the talent to replicate what Bournemouth did.
“Our aim is to be in the top two or so by Christmas and it can be done.
“If we win our home games and then pick up some away from home as well, be solid and not lose as we’ve done a few times in the past, then yes, it’s definitely on.
“When the gaffer came in he made no attempt to hide it. He said he wants us to be at the top as quickly and for as long as possible and that promotion is the aim. If we can go on a good run now, then we’ll be in the top two at Christmas.”
A boyhood Liverpool fan, Baxter – if he knows his Anfield history – might just also allude to the grounded maxim employed by messrs Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish.
Namely, that you don’t win prizes in November or December, but in May.
Just as the Reds famously did in 1981-82, when winning the Division One title for the umpteenth occasion, despite being as low as 12th on Boxing Day.
Baxter added: “I know it’s frustrating for the fans, when you see your team lose, your first instinct is to let your head go down.
“I’m a football fan myself. We appreciate that they pay their hard-earned money to come and watch us, so I completely understand.
“But we’ve all got to stay focused and it will be worth it come the end of the season when we get promoted.
“For us, it’s about putting our chances away.
“We’re creating plenty and that’s what football is, it’s the basics done well.
“Someone will be on the receiving end of a good four or five-nil soon and then we’ll kick on.
“We’ve got lads coming back from injury and you saw against Fleetwood that, even with plenty of those in the team, we could more than hold our own.”
In Baxter, the Blades possess a code-breaker able at his best to unlock any defence at this level, with the Scouser relishing that roving commission he is afforded when he plays in the No 10 role.
In tight games and on the numerous occasions that visiting defences park the bus at Bramall Lane – as just might occur this afternoon with a Southend side ravaged by injury, something a bit off-the-cuff is sometimes what is required.
Baxter is the man who is hoping to oblige.
Not just today, but in the future too.
He added: “The gaffer said he likes me in that No 10 role.
“To be honest, I’m just happy to be out there playing but, yes, that’s a position I enjoy.
“I’ve played there a lot down the years and so I think I know the position and how to play it.
“It’s a little bit like a cheating position in a way because defenders don’t know whether to come out of the slot and close you down or stay and leave you in space.
“You’ve got to be clever and realise when they are going to come at you or close you down from behind.
“That’s one of the reasons I enjoy being in there.”