IF SHEFFIELD UNITED require any further inspiration when contemplating their relatively benign initial reacquaintance with the big time, it should arrive from the experiences of Huddersfield Town – Yorkshire’s previous representative at the top-flight table.
Sometimes, the oft-used footballing maxim that success of league seasons boils down to ‘not how you start, but how you finish’ does not quite ring true, as the Terriers can attest from events in their first season in the Premier League in 2017-18.
Famously, Huddersfield made the most of a favourable run of early fixtures and even had the temerity to briefly top the table after two games following memorable successes over Crystal Palace and Newcastle United.
A healthy opening – the Terriers faced just one leading side in Spurs before mid-October 2017 – provided emotional fuel, reassurance and belief ahead of their glorious retaining of their top-flight status the following Spring.
Equally, it will not be forgotten that daunting back-to-back appointments to begin the 2018-19 season against the previous two champions in Chelsea and Manchester City set the tone for a uniformly awful campaign for Town.
It was one which made the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the John Smith’s Stadium and ended in a pitiful relegation before the end of March – as Huddersfield became just the second Premier League team to ‘achieve’ that embarrassing feat.
So in that regard, the fact that the Blades face just two Champions League candidates in Chelsea and Liverpool before the second international break in October and are eased into – comparatively speaking at any rate – the top-flight campaign will be viewed as not too bad a thing.
Blades chief Chris Wilder is far too shrewd to say as much, while maintaining that coping with the way that the ‘dominoes drop’ in terms of fixture scheduling is part of life for every club.
After all, negotiating a potentially oppressive and season-defining run of Championship games in the pivotal second half of last season, which saw the Blades visit promotion rivals Norwich City, Leeds United, West Brom and Aston Villa, did not steer his side off course. Quite the opposite, in fact.
But the Premier League is a different beast as Wilder will certify.
In terms of United’s scheduling, the first three home games against Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Southampton represents a craven early opportunity, with the run from the end of November to December 28 and the entire month of February looking like choice opportunities as well.
Less edifying are January matches with Liverpool, Arsenal and champions Manchester City, who visit Bramall Lane for the Blades’ final league game of 2019.
But regardless of the order of games and opponents, it is likely that the one thing which will determine whether United secure a second season of Premier League football next year above all else will be their ‘bouncebackability’ as full-back Enda Stevens puts it.
A much-used saying of Wilder during his successful managerial career is ‘if you lose one or two, you certainly don’t lose three’ and in fairness, his United side have proved pretty proficient in not losing successive league games, let alone three in arow.
The last time that the Blades suffered back-to-back league losses? The start of last season.
Stevens commented: “We have not have back to back losses after the first two games (of 2018-19). The manager always had in him to get that reaction from us.
“We have got a strong character in the group. The staff, the manager and the players, none of us like losing. We want to take that momentum in and take that attitude in with us too.
“We always had the bouncebackability.”
Much like with Huddersfield’s similarly unified ‘band of brothers’ whose determination to make those who predicted their impending Premier League demise metaphorically eat their words two seasons ago and whose defiance was worn as a badge of honour, so the Blades’ desire to show that their own story is far from finished yet will be a potent unifying force.
As with their Terriers’ counterparts, they will be intent on enjoying the ride along the way, while grasp every bit of their cherished opportunity which has been a long time coming for virtually everyone in red and white.
There is unlikely to be any more motivated, close-knit side in the top-flight, for sure.
“I just feel we are going to go out and enjoy it,” Stevens added.
“When you get there, you might see the occasion. But the manager and the staff take all the pressure off us by saying just play the way you want to play.
“They take the nerves away and I think we will have the same mentality in the Premier League.
“Everyone has their own story. Everyone has their own way of getting to where they want to be. it is up to a player to create their own career path. Some of us have had to start at the bottom.
“But every player brings their own experience to the team. That stands us in good stead.”