Since March 7 2020 there has been a pilot at Middlesbrough in September and some Harrogate Town matches when North Yorkshire was in “Tier Two” in December in front of very small crowds but that apart it has been fan-free.
The impact on games is undeniable. Added to fatigue caused by a condensed fixture list, the lack of atmosphere has contributed to many low-quality matches.
All clubs regularly point to how much they missed their fans, but Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder thinks his has suffered more than most. A year ago tomorrow they were sixth in the Premier League after beating Norwich City 1-0. Today they host Southampton cut adrift at the bottom. Even Wednesday’s win over Aston Villa only boosted their pandemic points tally to 19 from 18 games, as opposed to 24 from 15 matches before.
But the Blades still have one fan allowed in, and Wilder has warned his players they cannot slack off with him there.
“I can rattle off half a dozen negative football clubs in the top two divisions that players didn’t enjoy playing in front of and supporters didn’t enjoy watching,” he said. “Our players love playing in front of the supporters at Bramall Lane and I’m sure they enjoyed our performances.
“I believe they played a huge part in turning losses into draws and draws into wins last season.”
Twelve points adrift with 11 games left, relegation looks certain, but Wilder will demand his side fight until the final day.
“I’m not going to be sat in the back of the dugout or take shortcuts from Monday to Friday,” he said. “If I see any of that (players not giving their all), that will stick with me and the supporters.
“The one thing that really stings is if people have the opinion they’re turning it in. In midweek I was pleased how they kept going. That has to be the way.”
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