Sheffield United's 2022-23 promotion season: A campaign of setbacks and comebacks
Paul Heckingbottom, pictured, and his squad faced a myriad of mainly off-field problems but refused to be sidetracked in their mission to get back to the division the Blades were relegated from in 2021.
The season in effect started in the aftermath of defeat in May 2022's Championship play-off semi-final at Nottingham Forest. The game ended in chaotic scenes with a pitch invasion which saw a fan jailed for assaulting Billy Sharp and charges brought against Oli McBurnie which he had to go to court to be cleared of in mid-December. History shows, nights like that can leave a nasty and lengthy hangover.
The Blades, though, were quick to respond, making a point of getting what little transfer business they were able to do, early.
Anel Ahmedhodzic was their only paid-for signing, but at £4.5m the overlapping centre-back was an inspired signing, a nod to the days of Chris Wilder. The Bosnian was a constant goal menace and finished the season in the Football League's Championship team of the year.
Unusually, all the signings were in place before the season started, with Manchester City loanees James McAtee and Tommy Doyle blossoming into outstanding acquisitions as the campaign went on.
Despite that, the Blades began the season with a chastening defeat at Watford, who looked much the more likely to get promoted on the night. West Bromwich Albion knocked them out of the League Cup first round.
Despite that, United made good on Heckingbottom's demands that they set the pace, rather than having to play catch-up as they did when he came in as manager the previous November. They won seven of their first 10 league games to go three points clear at the top.
Club record signing Rhian Brewster finally scoring his first goal of the season at Stoke City was the highlight from a run of three points from 18 but as the Blades got back to winning ways, his season was ended by injury.
By then Oli McBurnie was well and truly out of his own goal drought. At Luton Town in August he scored his first league goal since December 2020, one of nine in 13 games including two as Burnley were beaten 5-2.
A transfer embargo ought to have derailed the club, forcing them to weaken their squad as Reda Khadra was recalled from a disappointing loan by Brighton and Hove Albion with no scope to freshen a squad badly hit by injuries all season.
A run of 11 wins in 13 games carried on regardless, the board refused to sell Iliman Ndiaye or Sander Berge and an FA Cup run to the Wembley semi-finals which allowed the embargo to be cleared began.
Middlesbrough's relentless pressure had its effect in February when they won 3-1 at Bramall Lane as four losses in six league games eroded a big cushion to the play-off places.
Dropping Oliver Norwood for the first time in the league, with Doyle the new holding midfielder, brought victories over Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers. When Boro wobbled, there was no question Sheffield United would get over the line.