PUT TO THE SWORD
If there is one positive Sheffield United fans can cling to after Sunday’s shellacking by Newcastle, it’s that no team that has ever shipped eight or more goals in a Premier League match has ever gone on to be relegated that season. Unless, of course, you want to be pedantic and count Ipswich Town, who went down after losing 9-0 at Old Trafford in March 1995. Or Nottingham Forest, who finished rock-bottom of the table after losing 8-1 at home to Lord Ferg’s treble-winners of 1999. Or the Blades’ rivals Sheffield Wednesday, who dropped through the trap-door at the end of a campaign in which they also lost 8-0 to Newcastle, a game in which Alan Shearer spanked five goals past an increasingly glum Kevin Pressman.
But apart from Ipswich, Forest and Wednesday, no other team that has conceded eight or more goal in a Premier League match has ever gone down come season’s end, a roll of ignominy that includes Southampton (twice), Arsenal, Bournemouth and Manchester City, at least one of whom used the humiliation – and a subsequent cash injection of well north of £2bn – to help build their character and go on to win a Premier League, Big Cup and FA Cup treble 15 years later. Dare to dream, Blades fans! Dare to dream! But while Sean Bean, Joe Elliott, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Joe Root, Paul Heaton, that know-all from The Chase, Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the woman caught on camera reading her book in the stand as Bruno Guimarães put Newcastle 7-0 up might have spent Sunday night contemplating the fact their boys had taken one hell of a beating, in truth Sheffield United’s dismal performance was no great surprise.
Having embarked on the current top-flight campaign with a squad that was demonstrably worse than that which won them promotion, Paul Heckingbottom went into this game with his future clouded with uncertainty and no fewer than nine players unavailable for selection through knack or suspension. The club was also shaken to its core by tragedy last week, following the death of Maddy Cusack, a midfielder from their women’s team who was remembered with various pre-match tributes including a poignant minute’s silence. “It has affected a lot of people, there were tears on the pitch before the game,” said Heckingbottom, adding a much-needed dose of post-match perspective afterwards. “We were determined to end what has been a really tough week strongly and we weren’t able to do that. It has been a tough week for everyone at the club and one we want over.”
Bottom of the table alongside fellow promoted sides Burnley and Luton Town, who are also winless and occupying the other two relegation places, Sheffield United’s thrashing has prompted numerous pundits to talk up the gulf in class between the Championship and the Premier League. But while it’s true the step up can be tricky to negotiate, all three sides have shown reasons to believe in them and the gulf in points between them and Crystal Palace in 10th is only seven points. With more than 30 games of the season to go it’s a little bit too early to be writing anyone off, even if we might be prepared to make an exception for Chelsea.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
19 May: “It’s an honour to me and I want to get the Ajax DNA as soon as I can” – Sven Mislintat cannot wait to work his alchemy after being appointed director of football at the Eredivisie giants.
20 September: “There will be an independent external investigation done by a forensic accountant into [a conflict of interests surrounding a transfer]. [Sven] has declared that he will fully cooperate” – Ajax will investigate Mislintat after the club recruited a player on transfer deadline day through the office of a Mr 15%, which owns shares in Mislintat’s private company, Matchmetrics.
24 September: “Ajax has ended the collaboration with director of football Sven Mislintat with immediate effect. The lack of broad support within the organisation is the reason behind this decision” – the investigation doesn’t last long, with Ajax axing their transfer guru soon after the abandonment of their home match against Feyenoord, in which fans trashed their own stadium with the score 0-3.
FOOTBALL DAILY LETTERS
Far be it for me as a Leeds fan to twist the knife, but after Sheffield United’s hammering at home to Newcastle, is it too early to say that the Blades just can’t cut it in the top flight?” – Allastair McGillivray.
The Madrid derby was enthralling, the Ajax/Feyenoord drama was disturbing and extraordinary but my weekend’s football highlight was altogether different. My septuagenarian brother is a lifelong Chelsea fan and season ticket holder, but he watched my team, Ipswich, on Saturday and admitted that he prefers watching Championship games at the moment. Of course I pointed out that after the Villa defeat, next season he might have little choice” – Lindsay Williams.
It is good to see that Harry Kane’s goals at the weekend ‘put him above Gerd Müller’ and ‘set a club record for most goals by a player in his first five Bundesliga matches’. Oh well, I guess the late, great Müller will just have to console himself with being (takes a deep breath) the all-time highest scorer in Germany’s top flight, Europe’s top scorer twice, Ballon d’Or winner in 1970 and scoring 68 goals in only 62 games for the German national team, all while winning four Bundesligas, four German Cups, three European Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and both the European Championships and World Cup” – Noble Francis.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day is … Lindsay Williams, who wins a copy of the Football Weekly Book. We’ve more to give away all week, so keep tapping.
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