Following on from the success of last season, in which Sheffield United played their first football back in the Premier League since their last tenure in the 2006-07 season and finished ninth in the table, it was always going to be a tall order for the Blades to replicate that feat this campaign. But it’s been a sorry tale for the Sheffield club – rock bottom of the Premier League, with just one point from 12 games. They boast unenviable records of being the fastest ever club to amass 11 losses, and also set a Premier League record for the fewest points earned at the start of the season.
While the margin of their defeats has largely been just one solitary goal, the Blades are suffering at both ends of the pitch – having scored only five goals so far this campaign, with their top scorer David McGoldrick on two. Remarkably, Sheffield United aren’t the favourites to finish rock bottom, in the latest Premier League odds, but their chances of staying in the top flight for a third successive campaign are looking remarkably slim.
Gaps are appearing up and down the league table, with groups of teams huddled on the same number of points, but the margins between each starting show. Nowhere is this more noticeable than at the bottom. The Blades are eight points from safety, although Burnley in 17th have a game in hand. If they win that, then there’s nine points between Brighton & Hove Albion in 16th.
But more pertinent than that, history doesn’t favour Chris Wilder’s side either. In the history of the Premier League, there have been just three occasions whereby the team bottom of the division at Christmas has managed to avoid relegation to the Championship. Coincidently, all three teams had 10 points, the lowest points tally in Premier League history.
The first was West Bromwich Albion in 2004-05, who took it to the wire, winning ‘Survival Sunday’ with victory over Portsmouth on the last day of the season. On the other two occasions that this has happened, it wasn’t quite as close, with the relegation battle being decided prior to the final day of the season. But the feat was first replicated by Sunderland in 2013-14. Their great escape started with six games remaining, having sat rooted to the table for most of the season. A draw and four consecutive wins propelled them up the table – and the Tynesiders eventually finished 14th. It happened again the following season – this time, Leicester City were the beneficiaries of the ‘Great Escape’. They too, spent a large proportion of the campaign marooned to the foot of the table, but a run of seven wins from their last nine fixtures allowed the Foxes to survive comfortably.
And spare a thought for Fulham and West Brom, who too, are in the dreaded drop-zone as things stand. Although there have been just two seasons whereby all three teams in the bottom three at Christmas were relegated – 2001-02 (Ipswich Town, Derby County and Leicester) and 2012-13 (Wigan, Reading and QPR) – things are looking bleak for all three clubs at the bottom.
Last season, it was Watford who were 20th in the table at Christmas, racking up just 12 points. They went on to be relegated with 34 points from 38 games. Sheffield United are some way off that total – and in fact, with two games between now and Christmas, it looks as though Wilder’s side will be setting a new record. Although, he was the man who got the Blades from League One to the Premier League, Wilder has got a mountain to climb if his side want to preserve their top-flight status.