Whilst there are still so many points to play for, the Blades cannot give up on staying in the Premier League. Stranger things have happened, just not many.
But with survival such a dauntingly long way away, they just need to focus on something more attainable.
At their present rate of points gathering, Chris Wilder’s side are on course to finish the season with five – less than half Derby County’s record-breakingly bad campaign of 2007-08.
For most of their Boxing Day game it seemed the Blades would take a 0-0 draw and a first clean sheet since they last won a match – in mid-July when Tier 4 was a division Bradford City played in and we were planning for a “return to normality by Christmas” – from a team who ended the night second in the Premier League.
Instead, they lost by the odd goal, as against Liverpool, Leicester City, Manchester United, Manchester City, West Ham United and Aston Villa. There comes a point when so many narrow defeats – their one-goal losses are now in double figures – have to be more than bad luck. Nobody was looking for sympathy at full-time.
“It’s tough but everyone is playing for pride,” said Ben Osborn. “It’s embarrassing at the moment.
“Everyone is going to fight. We just need someone to get a break or hit a little form in front of goal.”
Finding 11 men who can fight for the red-and-white shirt would be pretty straight-forward. The Blades need a bit more than that.
“We never built any pressure or momentum because our decision-making and our quality was poor,” lamented Wilder.
He changed from his trusted 3-5-2 formation at kick-off for the first time this season, playing an interchangeable front three of David McGoldrick, Rhian Brewster and Oliver Burke.
In the 16th minute, for the first time in a dull game, it sparked, Chris Basham anticipating Gylfi Sigurdsson’s flick, bringing the ball out and playing it to Brewster, who threaded a lovely ball to McGoldrick. But with swirling rain hammering the pitch, he slipped after going past Jordan Pickford, and his shot lacked the legs to outpace Ben Godfrey, running back to cover.
An offside flag went up, but it was the first and last real creativity from the hosts until the dying embers of the game.
Not that Everton offered much either. Missing the creativity of Richarlison and James Rodriguez, the security of Allan and the crossing of Lucas Digne, their only spell of note came in the second quarter of the game, Alex Iwobi forcing a low save from Aaron Ramsdale, then dribbling into the area only for the move to break down, Dominic Calvert-Lewin quicker of mind and foot to get in front of Jack Robinson and chest the ball down for a volley thumped wide, and Sigurdsson’s curling shot showing more subtlety but the same result. When Ramsdale dropped the slippery ball coming for a free-kick, John Egan blocked from Godfrey.
After the break the game slipped into a stupor which would not have done any favours to those struggling to stay awake after two days’ over-indulgence.
The Blades’ mission changed.
“I thought minimum was to get a clean sheet, even if we’re not playing that well on the ball,” said Osborn “Then I’ve turned around, seen him with that much time, I couldn’t believe it. We never get that. It’s not good enough.”
Draws do not do a great deal for the Blades at the moment, but are better than nothing. Holding midfielder Oliver Norwood came on for McGoldrick and the front-foot approachat kick-off made way for Old Familiar.
The “him” was Sigurdsson. Norwood and Egan converged determinedly to stop Bernard getting a volley in, but the Blades never cleared their lines, and switched off when Abdoule Doucoure saw his captain in space.
“They defended well, similar to us,” reflected Osborn. “Then we make half a mistake and they finish it whereas we’re not coming up with that quality.
“It felt similar to Leicester. We didn’t play great but I’m thinking, ‘This is a draw’. Then it gets taken away from you like that and it’s sickening.
“I’ve been in these situations before, when you can’t see a win coming and then you nick a 1-0 or something. Then you kick on.”
The upset was all over Osborn’s face as he spoke at full-time.
“I feel like the set-up is good, we’re doing the right things in training and I feel like the result is coming,” said the midfielder, but it felt a long way off on Saturday night.
Of the succession of narrow defeats, he said: “It just adds up doesn’t it?
“They had a couple out and we really fancied ourselves. They weren’t creating much and I thought just get the 0-0 as a minimum and take it from there. Then comes the sucker punch.
“It makes it hurt even more when these results happen. We are fighting for everything now – for ourselves and for Sheffield United fans.”
Most of all they are fighting for pride.
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