Yorkshire rivals are rewinding clock to glory days

HEAD down to Thorp Arch or Shirecliffe and not only are the mornings feeling fine these days, but the distinct impression that both Leeds United and Sheffield United are into something good is also inescapable.

Pontus Jansson.

Visit the training grounds of both upwardly-mobile Yorkshire rivals and the mood music is vibrant – a refreshing change to some days of yore – with both sets of players entitled to believe they are partway through a memorable Championship journey which has the tantalising potential to turn into something special.

Granted, it is a little bit premature to harken back to that famous season of 1989-90 when Leeds and the Blades, managed by Howard Wilkinson and Dave Bassett, achieved automatic promotion back to the top-flight on that fateful, sun-drenched spring day of May 5, 1990.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But with Leeds and their South Yorkshire rivals heading into tomorrow night’s mouth-watering occasion at Elland Road in fourth and third place respectively in the Championship, it is fair to say that both White Rose sides are rewinding the clock to much more harmonious times.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder

Given the sense of well-being in both camps heading into tomorrow’s near-sell-out, it would be churlish not to recognise the occasion as Yorkshire’s ‘game of the season’ so far – even accounting for the resumption of Steel City rivalries on September 24.

The sense of positivity at Leeds has been further fortified by their latest contractual fillip which has seen Pontus Jansson pen an improved five-year deal to commit his future to the club until 2022.

The Swedish international, under four months on from joining the club on a £3.5m deal from Torino, will be contracted to the club until beyond his 30th birthday and despite a mixed start to the season on a personal front, Jansson’s conviction that Leeds can finally secure a cherished return to the Premier League has been reinforced by events so far this term.

Jansson said: “Everyone has been good to me and when I started to play good on the pitch, I got love from the fans. I am really pleased to be here. I hope I can give something back now.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder

“I remember my first day here I got a question ‘what do I know about Leeds?’ I remember (Harry) Kewell, (Mark) Viduka, some of those players, and I said Leeds are a club who belong in the Premier League.

“I said since day one, and people laughed in the beginning, that I wanted to play in the Premier League with Leeds and now we are getting closer and closer.

“We are on our way to something good. Since day one, I really believed in it and now there are more than me who believe in it.”

Journey down the M1 to the Blades’ training ground at Shirecliffe and there is also a single-minded conviction – albeit of the rather more understated variety – among another ultra-motivated group of players that they stand on the cusp of their second remarkable season in a row.

Everyone connected with the Blades may not be quite so open in their declaration that Premier League football is getting closer, but they certainly are blessed with several prerequisites which all successful promotion-achieving sides must uniformly possess.

Chief among those are a player-led pushing of standards to build on the club’s current high-ranking to strive to do even better, both as a team and as individuals.

Within that, internal competition for places among a wholly driven squad is currently not just healthy, but ferociously healthy according to Blades chief Chris Wilder, effusive in his praise of the players’ standards on a day-to-day basis.

He said: “ They are doing great. I have said all along, it is about getting good characters in the building who are talented at football. If they are willing to work hard, it is a fantastic quality to have.

“Players are driving themselves forward. They are not feeling sorry for themselves if they are not in.

“A great example of that is Mark Duffy. He dropped out of the team and David Brooks came in. What does he do? He can easily think ‘this competition is a bit too hard for me, I can easily go and get a game somewhere else.’

“Or does he say ‘right, I am going to show you?’ That is happening all over the squad. They recognise that is what is required from themselves and if they want to be a part of this going forward.

“They enjoy it, want to improve and want to win.

“You feel a bit sorry for some of them. John Lundstram has dropped out after doing well. Danny Lafferty has had to put up with Enda Stevens being superb. Jake Wright is not playing at the moment and Richard Stearman is back out on the grass.

“Cameron (Carter-Vickers) has come in and been superb as a young player. He gives us that athletic ability to get up the pitch. They have (all) done great.

“At the top of the pitch, if you ask Leon (Clarke), he has got Billy, Brooksy, Clayton (Donaldson) and a couple of others who want to step in. They are raising it. Whatever level that stops at, who knows? We will see.”