Sheffield United have enjoyed a very good season so far, especially in the cup competitions. A fantastic 3-0 victory at QPR in the FA Cup continued their astonishing run in both the FA Cup and Capital One Cup in the past two seasons. Last season, Nigel Clough’s men reached the semi-final stage of the FA Cu,p defeating Premier League Aston Villa and Fulham on the way to Wembley. They battled Hull City in a valiant effort, taking the lead twice before eventually falling bravely to a 5-3 defeat.
This season, their cup exploits have seen them reached the Capital One Cup semi-finals where they meet Tottenham in a two-legged affair. West Ham and Southampton were the Premier League sides beaten by the Blades and the victory over QPR makes it five Premier League scalps in the past two seasons. But although the possibility of another Wembley appearance would be another fantastic achievement, getting out of League One should be their main priority.
The Blades have found it extremely difficult to win promotion back to the Championship, with this being their fourth season in the third tier. The first saw them defeated in the play-off final in 2012 on penalties to Huddersfield, with goalkeeper Steve Simonsen missing the deciding kick. The following season saw more play-off heartache, this time at the hands of Yeovil Town who defeated them in the semi-final. Last season saw them finish in a disappointing seventh, with perhaps the FA Cup run taking its toll on the squad in the end.
And they could find themselves in a similar situation this season, too. With the club in both cups and battling to secure a play-off berth, they could find it hard to sustain a realistic challenge in all three. They might have to rotate in the FA Cup tie at Preston in order to keep a fit squad for the other two competitions, bearing in mind the size of the squad.
In terms of the league, Sheffield United have had a fairly indifferent season, currently in sixth position with nine victories and seven defeats. They are 15 points behind an automatic promotion spot, so the play-offs may have to do, but United have a particularly poor record in play-offs. They have failed to secure promotion in their last seven play-off attempts, which is a worrying statistic that needs to change this season.
The Blades have the players to win promotion this season, especially in midfield. With the likes of tough tacking captain Michael Doyle and Chris Basham in the centre of the park, they have proven to be a difficult side to break down for the majority of this season. Jamal Campbell-Ryce is also proving to be an excellent addition. The pacey winger caused QPR all sorts of problems and scored twice. He will be a player vital to any aspirations this season.
The lack of a consistent goalscorer could hurt them. Marc McNulty is the top scorer in the league with just five goals but there is quality up front in Jose Baxter and Michael Higdon. Higdon scored 14 times in the Eredivsie and, while he has disappointed so far, United are still going to need him for the long season ahead.
Whilst a League Cup semi-final is something that doesn’t come around too often, Sheffield United must focus on the league because another season in this division would be disastrous.