One of the few positives Sheffield United can take from last week’s surprise 4-1 loss at Walsall is the League One leaders will not have to face the Saddlers again this season.
For since losing at Millwall, on August 20 last year, the Blades have been in imperious form losing just four games in all competitions in nearly five months.
Three of those, though, actually came against mid-table Walsall – losing twice in the league and once in the Football League Trophy.
It’s a strange sequence of results, but Blades captain Billy Sharp believes it is merely a blip and admits his side would have “snapped your hand off” if offered their recent record of 18 points from a possible 21.
“Last week’s result was a surprise and disappointing as well,” said 30-year-old Sharp. “I thought we were doing alright to begin with.
“At half-time, we thought if we carry on doing what we’ve been doing then we’d get the winner. But it wasn’t to be.
“The lads held their hands up afterwards. But, having said all that, if you’d have offered us the record we’ve had lately a while back then we’d have snapped your hands off.”
Despite conceding four goals at the Bescot Stadium, United saw promotion rivals Bolton Wanderers, Bradford City and Rochdale all lose too.
Sharp said: “The results were kind to us but I don’t think it or the scoreline were true reflections on the game or where we are as a team.
“We were disappointed, angry and didn’t see it coming. But we’ve regrouped and put it behind us now. We’ve learned from it and we’ll put another run together.
“The stats showed we were the better team over the two games but they’ve beaten us 5-1 on aggregate and that’s what counts.
“If we could have had another game on the Sunday then we would have done because everybody was hurting.”
The fact they have had to spend a long week on the Shirecliffe training ground pitches means they will be hungry to make amends today with the visit of Gillingham at Bramall Lane.
United supporters will have the chance to sit behind the goal on the lower tier of the Bramall Lane stand today. It’s part of a three-game trial to put home fans in an area of the ground which is traditionally reserved for away supporters.
“There will be home fans underneath the away end this week as well which will be nice,” said top scorer Sharp. “If you score at that end then you’ve got someone to celebrate with now.
“There are going to be 20,000-plus and so the more the better. You want to play in front of the biggest crowd possible. The fans come and expect us to win. We’re the same. But it’s never easy to get three points.
“We appreciate it when they stick with us. You saw that last week with the reception they gave us at the end of the game. It means a lot.
“We don’t mean to go to Walsall and get beat 4-1. We did try our best and, on that day, it wasn’t good enough. It shows how far we’ve come that they are right behind us now.”
Having been the chasers for much of the campaign, and recent years, United are now the pace-setters.
They lead second-placed Scunthorpe United by a single point, but there is then a six-point gap to third-placed Bolton. Back-to-back home games against the Gills and Tuesday’s visit of Fleetwood Town mean they have an ideal opportunity to try and extend that advantage.
“Three or four weeks ago, we were saying we need points to close the gap,” said Sharp. “Then, we were coming off the pitch and asking how all the others had done.
“If they’d won, it was a little bit deflating. Now we know that if we’re winning, then we stay top anyway.
“If Gillingham try to frustrate us then so be it. We’ve got to accept that now.
“Teams will try and frustrate us but we’ve got enough quality, if we do what we’re capable of, to break them down.
“We’ll find out how significant the two home games will be won’t we. But it’s definitely a good opportunity to go out there, express ourselves, and do what we have been doing.
“I believed we could do it last year but, looking back, we were nowhere near good enough.
“This year, you can see people want to win on the training ground and that’s where everything starts.”