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Sheffield: A tale of two bottling clubs

Wednesday 25th January 2017
Sheffield is the fourth biggest city in England. And yet, for a decade, the city has not boasted a Premier League club. It is a tale of two teams losing their bottle.
August 19th 2006. After a splendid summer spilt over with hope and optimism, Neil Warnock, the man who had masterminded a successful promotion campaign from the ever so difficult Championship just a year previous, was spearheading a club on an upwards trajectory. Sheffield United, having been banished from the top flight for 12-years, welcomed the mighty Liverpool to the humble abode that is Bramall Lane.

Cheered on by a raucous crowd, the Blades toiled their way to a one-goal lead. Their latest acquisition, hustling and bustling centre-forward Rob Hulse, was the man who gave United their first taste of a Premiership - the branding genius of the Premier League had not yet come to the fore, perhaps a sign of the ailing footballing landscape of the Steel City - goal, rising highest, as he did so well for Leeds United the year before, to nod home Michael Tonge's freekick. That, though, would be a rare positive for what was an ultimately desperately disappointing campaign.

Just a short 24 minutes later the dream that so nearly became a reality came crashing to a nightmarish halt. Steven Gerrard, the talismanic Merseysider, burst into the United penalty area, took a tumble, feigning contact, winning Liverpool a penalty which Robbie Fowler tucked away with consummate professionalism. The game would end a stalemate; a good point for the plucky Sheffield side in their pursuit of safety.

Or so they thought.

A Carlos Tevez affair and a David Unsworth (an ex-Blade himself ) penalty later, and Warnock's side were sent back to whence they came, never to taste the sweet nectar of the upper echelon of English football since.

Fast forward a dramatic 12 years and, if you allow your eyes to wander far enough down the tables, you will see both Sheffield clubs fighting for a shot at the big time once more. United's great rivals, Wednesday, are currently placed in the playoff positions in the Championship. After once again spending lavishly in the transfer window, signing the likes of Callum McManaman and Sam Winnall, two talented, attack-minded players, the Owls will hope to better their bitter loss to Hull City last year, a loss in which a Mohamed Diame screamer stifled any chance of the Premier League coming to roost in Sheffield once again.

United themselves sit atop League One, aspiring to haul their way back into the Championship. After a spate of big-name and big-disappointment managers.  The much-vilified Kevin McCabe, has turned to Chris Wilder to navigate the stormy waters of promotion. It is a chase that the Red and White Wizards have flirted with in the past, faltering after a 1-0 loss to none less than Wednesday themselves in 2012. Before the derby disaster, then manager Danny Wilson had astutely managed his side to a five-point lead, with two games in hand, over the Owls. It was a commanding position, one that was squandered badly.

Now, over a decade in which neither side has enjoyed the top flight, Wednesday are, to their credit, throwing their might (read: wallets) at the challenge. But many clubs have tried and failed before. Wednesday themselves tried and failed a year ago. United are also fighting for promotion, a task that has been beyond them ever since Warnock guided them to the Premiership all those years ago.

Sheffield is a city that deserves a championed team, a celebrated team, a Premier League team. Unfortunately, living under the shadow of that fateful season a decade ago, moulded by one pesky Argentinian, a dodgy court case and a Stevie G dive, the two are yet to find their bottle.
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!

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