Today’s game at Turf Moor, where Burnley will be licking their wounds after Sunday’s harsh 1-0 defeat at Elland Road, will not be for the faint-hearted any more than for the purist.
Two points from 15 games this season tells you Chris Wilder’s team have not been good enough but most of his squad has come up the hard way. They may have lost 13 matches this season, but only three by more than the odd goal.
It is very hard to see the Blades not going down this season, but it is important they do not go without a fight. A meek surrender could produce a hard-to-shift hangover.
Having worn the captain’s armband recently, John Egan has extra responsibility to lead the resistance and a typical Sheffield United backstory. Having shown promise as a Gaelic footballer, Egan’s 11-a-side career started in Sunderland’s academy. He had three loans in 2012, one at Sheffield United, but managed just six appearances in total, going from winning a shirt number with the Black Cats after impressing in pre-season to breaking his leg two weeks into a stint at Bradford City.
By the time he returned, the wannabe Premier League defender was slumming it in League Two, working his way up from a loan with Southend United, then a permanent move to League One Gillingham, then Championship Brentford before promotion to the top flight on his Bramall Lane return.
“We’ve all been through tough times in our careers and bounced back, a lot of the lads are similar,” he reflects.
“This is just another tough patch in the hardest league in the world.
“The only people who can get us out of it are ourselves and we know we have to be better and show the quality we have. Once we show that on a consistent basis we can hopefully kick on.
“We’ve got a dressing room full of men and we’ve got to come through it. You have to keep ploughing away, working hard and doing everything you can to make it turn in your favour. Saturday (when they lost 1-0 at home to Everton) was very frustrating and disappointing but you have to try and believe the next one is the one where you can turn it around.”
At least Egan will not have to drag the team through on his own.
“Everybody has to step up and different people have to lead in different ways,” he argues. “Even the young lads, they’re all leading by example. That’s never in question in our dressing room.
“You can see we’re giving it everything in every game, I just don’t think we’re showing the quality we can.
“We’re a changing room who’ve been used to winning games for the last few years and when we’re going through a tough patch it’s up to me and all the senior players – Billy (Sharp), Jags (Phil (Jagielka), Bashy (Chris Basham) – to keep trying to lead and set good examples.
“We keep saying every week we’re in a lot of tight games but we’re under no illusions that we have to turn those tight games into results and that has to start at Burnley. With the fine margins in this league against top-quality teams, you have to be on it 95, 100 minutes every week. We’re getting caught with lapses of concentration.”
What makes it so hard to stomach is that 12 months ago the Blades were the Premier League’s feelgood story, the newly-promoted side punching well above its weight and even threatening to qualify for Europe.
If that storyline seemed ridiculous, so does two points from a possible 45.
“Last season we were coming out the right side of tight games, this season we’ve been on the wrong side of a lot of tight games,” explains Egan. “The Everton game was another, nothing in it. We’ve got to be better, see that game out and get something out of it.
“I can’t remember Everton having a shot on target really until all of a sudden they’re 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go.”
At least in the non-stop festive period there is no time to feel sorry for themselves.
“You have to look forward to the next game, the next game is all that matters,” insists Egan.
“What’s happened you can’t change and you can only affect what will happen in the future. So, game by game, day by day we just have to improve as a team and as players. You can’t be looking at the big picture. You’ve got to roll with the punches.”
It is a squad that has learnt how to take a punch but it needs to quickly get back into the rhythm of landing them.
Last six games: Burnley LDWDWL; Sheffield United LLLLDL.
Referee: C Kavanagh (Lancs).
Last time: Burnley 1 Sheffield United 1, September 17, 2020; EFL Cup.