Even the longest-tenured coaches have seen their seasons die with a whimper when relegation begins to resemble a foregone conclusion.
So far, that is decidedly not Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United.
The Blades failed to win until their 18th game of the Premier League season, a record for futility as they collected two points through Jan. 2.
[ MORE: Three things from Villa – Blades ]
They’ve won four of 10 since, the latest being Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat of Aston Villa at Villa Park, and now live 12 points back of safety.
On Tuesday, we pinpointed the remaining must-win games on their docket. This wasn’t one of them, even with Jack Grealish missing for Villa.
And anyone would’ve been forgiven for writing off Wilder’s men once they went down a man via Phil Jagielka’s 57th-minute red card.
“We knew it would be a tough game and it got tougher when we went down to 10 men, but it showed how much we’re fighting for this club,” McGoldrick said, via the BBC. “It was backs against the wall. … We showed massive character. We all care about the club. We’re still fighting for our lives and our future. We’re still fighting until the end.”
McGoldrick has been a sneaky-decent Premier League striker on a bad offensive team, scoring six of the team’s 15 goals this season after a snakebit 2019-20 season saw him score just two despite leading the club in expected goals with 8.72.
Nineteenth place is back in play as soon as the weekend, when Sheffield United hosts Southampton while injury-riddled 17th-place Newcastle tangles with second-bottom Southampton.
So despite the immense work that went into holding off Villa, the men won’t be retreating to a celebratory pub.
Well, most of them won’t.
“I just said to the players I’ll celebrate for them tonight because they have another big game on Saturday,” Wilder said. “All the beers they might have drunk tonight, I’ll do that for them in place of them. I’ll have a good go at it.”
"All the beers the players might have had tonight, I'll do that in place of them!" 🍻😂
The Gaffer’s immediate reaction. 👇pic.twitter.com/7FseM9bcqu
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) March 3, 2021
What a guy. Self-sacrificial for the livers and legs of his players.
Wilder was proud, as he should be of a team which — should it pull off one of the Premier League’s greatest escapes — will count surprise wins over Villa and Manchester United as critical as the points they denied Fulham, Newcastle, Brighton, and West Brom.
Of course, those six performances are the only times Blades have claimed a point or three this season
“It was everything you want in a performance. We’ve defended at times pretty poorly this year and been architects of our own downfall. I thought we saw some top drawer defending there late on, and we had to, especially when we went down to 10 men.”
“It’s quite easy to criticize my team when the results don’t go for them. I can criticize them in terms of the standard of defending, in terms of the inability to take big chances, which has happened all season. I can’t criticize the injury record and the lack of consistency in team selection but that was a game like possibly 90% of our games last year: Tight game, never gonna incredibly dominate it, defend well and take our opportunities. … Perception is a big thing. My team are not laying down and an easy touch as seen by the performance tonight.”