Countless column inches have been generated by the lack of fandom in stadia this season and, although this is influencing home advantage up and down the country, the absensce of crowds is being felt more keenly than most at Bramall Lane.
That, of course, is the home of the Premier League’s current basement side and with relegation all but a certainty for Sheffield United at the end of this season, manager Chris Wilder will be asking himself “what if?”
What if, this historic ground were packed to the rafters every fortnight and if it were, just how much of a difference would it have made to the Blades’ ailing league campaign. Ultimately, it is something that is impossible to answer, but last season’s efforts should at least provide something of a guide to the impact of an empty Bramall Lane.
In Sheffield United’s return to the Premier League, they more than held their own and were it not for a poor run of results during “Project Restart”, there is every chance that they could have earned themselves a portion of European football to follow.
During last season’s 19 home outings, Chris Wilder’s men won 10 of them and subsequently recorded the 8th best record in the division. However, the story has been far from similar this time around.
Although a full quota of home fixtures has yet to be played, they will certainly not match the efforts of 2019/20 and, with four outings remaining at Bramall Lane, they’ve currently won just three of their first 15 home contests. It adds to the charge sheet against Sheffield United and, when the dust settles on their inevitable relegation, this will certainly be one of the more pertinent factors.
Then again, it is not just one team in isolation who are operating with closed turnstiles at present, every club is in the same boat and, therefore, other reasons for their upcoming demise will come to the fore.
The term ‘second season syndrome’ is often spouted for those teams who are smart enough to get promoted and stay in the tier above at the first time asking, as the threat of the drop then appears the following year.
Unfortunately for this group of players, the symptoms have been on show since the start of this current campaign and try as they might, the football scientists have not managed to find anything in the way of a sporting vaccine. Which means, for a squad which has been largely unchanged since their impressive 9th place finish last season, the rapid decline in form is one that only becomes both concerning and intriguing in equal measures.
There was always a sense that the 2020 vintage of Sheffield United were performing above their station and to maintain such levels, was going to be an almost impossible task – something that we have witnessed across the past few months.
However, it is perhaps the transfers where Chris Wilder has put a blot on his once neat and tidy copybook, with Sheffield United’s summer recruits to Bramall Lane proving disastrous.
With Dean Henderson going back to parent club Manchester United, filling the goalkeeper void was always going to be an extraordinarily difficult task for the man in charge and Aaron Ramsdale was identified as the player to replace him.
While it would be unfair to blame all the club’s defensive woes on Ramsdale, he has not exuded the same confidence as the man looking to usurp David De Gea and Jordan Pickford within club and country environments.
Not to mention, the transfer fee of approximately £19m that was needed to land the now 22-year-old’s services from Bournemouth and at such a price, the EFL Championship outfit had every right to take the money and run.
Last season saw Sheffield United in a perfect state of equilibrium between defence and attack and, although the new number one has come in for his fair share of criticism, the sharper end of the pitch cannot be absolved from blame either.
It has been a pitiful return in front of goal and although Rhian Brewster’s minutes have been largely fleeting, fans of the club and even neutrals will wince at the fee that Liverpool collected for his summer sale.
Zero goals is their return for a £23m outlay on the young forwad, a piece of business that is perhaps the most damming indictment of the current manager’s transfer acumen and although he is likely to lead this club into the second tier, he may not be given the opportunity to get them back out. Sheffield United, in the meantime, will just be hoping that Bramall Lane is packed once again next season as they attempt to bounce back quickly.