We may only be in November, and we’ve just passed the quarter-of-a-season mark, but Sheffield United travelling to West Bromwich Albion had ‘relegation six-pointer’ written all over it.
We could all be forgiven for allowing this thought to enter our minds. After all, six points was a higher total than the two teams had collected from their opening nine games – combined. The Blades had managed a solitary point from a possible 27, which left them propping up the rest of the league.
One place and two points above them sat the Baggies. Inspiring stuff.
So, going into Saturday night’s big clash, both sets of fans would have been faced with one grim thought: whoever loses this game is doomed. While not completely irrational, it’s not entirely true, either.
Whoever wins will probably still go down, anyway. Both teams have looked miles out of their depth at times this year, and although they’ve put in the odd spirited display, they’ve been let down by a severe lack of quality.
It spoke volumes of the state of both sides that their big summer signings were watching the opening exchanges from the bench. Grady Diangana and Rhian Brewster cost almost £40m between them, but neither player has shown he has what it takes at this level thus far.
Two big risks from teams without a bottomless pool of riches, and decisions which could seem even more foolish come the end of the season.
Plenty at stake going into kickoff, then.
And in fairness, the match was as nervy, tense and hard-fought as you’d expect. Both teams gave it their all and left everything on the pitch. In the end, they would only be separated by a moment of quality or a slice of fortune.
Of course, it was the latter on this occasion – purely because the lack of genuine match-winning quality on the field left little chance of the game igniting into life.
West Brom were on the receiving end of Lady Luck’s charm this time round, as Conor Gallagher’s tame shot from the edge of the box deflected and crept past Aaron Ramsdale into the bottom corner. It was a poor start to the game for Sheffield United, and one from which they failed to bounce back.
Once again, they had their chances. It wasn’t a defensive masterclass from the Baggies, more an apparent phobia of hitting the net from the visitors. A wise man (Homer Simpson) once said, “You tried and you tried and you failed miserably, the lesson is: never try.”
George Baldock probably wishes he’d taken that advice. The wing-back gambled and got himself into a great scoring position, as the Blades carved out one of the classic plays which made them so successful last year. Unfortunately, his finish was very much in form with the Sheffield United 2020/21 era.
A late flurry of chances, including a double clanger from substitutes Brewster and Lys Mousset meant that West Brom just about clung on to the three points, lifting them out of the bottom three (for the time being).
As for Sheffield United, they remain very much bottom of the table, one point from ten matches, and completely cut adrift from their fellow stragglers. The plan which proved so effective for Chris Wilder last season has been sussed by their opponents, and when that’s in the bin, all that’s left is the quality of the individuals.
That quality, is Championship level – and that’s where the Blades will be heading if they don’t sort out this mess.
And West Brom? Well, they can enjoy the three points and smile at the Premier League table. They boast some nice, intelligent players in their team in Matheus Pereira and Conor Gallagher, while the new-found defensive solidity will be music to Slaven Bilic’s ears.
The absence of a proper goalscorer remains a concern though, and they’ll have to rely on edging 1-0 victories more often than not if they are to survive. That’s easier said than done.
So, there is a winner of this six-pointer after all. But on Saturday’s evidence, both teams may end up being losers come May 2021.