Sheffield United were one of the favourites to challenge at the top end of the Championship this season under Paul Heckingbottom, but there were concerns over their lack of out-and-out goalscorers and whether they could keep hold of key men such as Sander Berge. After a 1-0 reverse in their first fixture, things didn’t look too rosy but fast forward to the present day, and the Blades have been unbeaten since and sit atop of the pack.
Since the 1-0 defeat at Vicarage Road, which was a close affair, United have secured five wins and two draws in the games that have followed, proving their credentials as promotion candidates this season. One of the keys for Heckingbottom was keeping hold of the talismanic Berge, which United managed to do as no club came in with an offer deemed acceptable for the Norwegian midfielder.
Berge, 24, had really come to the fore since United were relegated back to the second tier after a two-season stay in the Premier League, and it’s no surprise he has suitors, but while he’s at Bramall Lane, he continues to do the business in the Championship, with two goals and two assists in seven appearances so far. Like Berge, a crucial component to the Blades' success on the pitch right now was finding a goalscorer they can rely on with Billy Sharp’s injury absence continuing. And it appears they’ve done precisely that.
It's been a long time coming, but Oli McBurnie has finally got into his stride after an extended absence himself through injury. He’s scored three goals in his last three games, with each strike pivotal in securing the three points for United. A 4-0 victory last time out at home to Paul Ince’s Reading has been followed up with an impressive 2-0 win away at Hull City, with the Scot on target in both fixtures, as well as in the 1-1 draw with Luton in the fixture previous to Reading, where he scored the much-needed equaliser.
So, everything appears to be going great at Bramall Lane because they’ve found answers to the questions they have asked of themselves since the start of the season. They lead the way in the Championship by a point, with Norwich City, Reading and Bristol City all in touching distance from the chasing pack. But now the onus is on United and Heckingbottom to take things to the next level, and it could be at the back where that happens.
The last two games have seen the Blades keep successive clean sheets, and they’ll now aim to build on that to give them the edge over their rivals. New signing Anel Ahmedhodzic has been a revelation since joining the club, and not just at the back, as the Bosnian has contributed three goals and an assist from six games at centre half. If United can remain a tough nut to crack at the back and keep McBurnie scoring, it could well be the year they return to the top-flight.