THE SIMILARITIES between Sheffield United and Bristol City do not begin and end in their current status as surprise packages of the Championship season.
Far from it, in fact.
Delve a little bit deeper and further correlations are not hard to find.
Labour on about League One and you will receive dark looks from Blades and Robins supporters scarred by several seasons of bitter experience.
That is until talk turns to their carthartic campaigns of 2016-17 and 2014-15 respectively when all the pain of life in the third tier was washed away magnificently.
Last season, United famously recorded the milestone of a century of points en route to the title, one more point that tomorrow’s Bristolian visitors managed in a similarly all-conquering season two years earlier.
Both achieved that feat with a team of highly-motivated individuals, whose talents are greater than the sum of their parts. As they most definitely are now too.
Two aspiring city clubs rich in potential and dreaming of rewinding the clock to some golden days back in the big time – with both having their place in the sun for an all too brief spell in the seventies – Sheffield and Bristol’s red and white footballing halves can count on the leadership on two managers who have their respective clubs etched into their souls.
Chris Wilder’s status as a lifelong ‘Blade’ is legion. And despite being born in Newmarket, his Bristol City counterpart Lee Johnson is also working in his dream job at the club closest to his heart and where he enjoyed the most rewarding times of his playing career – under the management of his father, Gary.
Plenty in common, then. But something must temporarily give tomorrow night at Bramall Lane, with both sides currently level on 37 points with only goal difference separating them in third and fourth place respectively.
Blades chief Wilder said: “I think there is a similarity between us. Since they came up; I think it is their second or third year, they have improved. That is what they will have wanted to do.
“I do believe it is a big club in the division, with a big catchment area. If you look at their ground and the investment in it; they are making it a really good, strong Championship club. They have done (good) trading too.
“Their chairman has ploughed a lot of money into that club, what with the stadium and everything else. It does not surprise me to see them where they are.
“They deserve to be where they are, as do we. They possibly were not expected to be up there at the start, like us. But the players they have got in have done well and are good players.
“They have got good technical players with good movement and good athletic ability. It is all set up to be a big game.”
Despite those aforesaid similarities, the recent form of both teams does show some disparities.
The Robins head into the game on the back of a polished televised victory over Middlesbrough, which followed a dramatic win at another team relegated from the Premier League last season in Hull City.
By their high standards, the Blades have suffered a recent dip, with no wins in their past three matches, with last weekend’s defeat at Millwall leaving Wilder decidedly sore and somewhat irate.
Previously this season when any questions have been asked, Wilder’s side have emphatically answered them in the affirmative as they must strive to do again tomorrow evening.
On his side’s recent form, Wilder added: “There is no lack of effort or commitment on their part. On anyone’s part, in fact.
“We have dropped our standards a little; it happens.
“You just get back on it. We have deserved every single result we have had this season, every single win.
“Other people can look at budgets, money that has been spent, and where we should be in relation to that or whatever.
“But for me, it is just a game of football, whether that be a Friday night at Bramall Lane live on Sky or Graves Park pitch 10. I want to win and the players are no different.
“It is a fantastic group of players who want the same as me.”
Successful footballing journeys invariably do not arrive without a few bumps in the road, with the Blades – putting their recent form issue aside – dealt with a tough moment last month following Paul Coutts’s horrific injury in the 3-1 victory at Burton Albion on November 17.
A group of men who pride themselves not just on their resolve, but their togetherness and esprit de corps, the sight of the midfielder back among his team-mates this week as he starts out on his long road to rehabilitation after sustaining a fractured tibia will have been a psychologically important milestone – both for the player and his team-mates.
Wilder acknowledged: “It is good to have Paul Coutts back in the building. He is a good character.
“No disrespect to what goes on at home, but I am sure he wants to get back in among the boys.
“He enjoys being here and around the place.”