BLOG | A View From John Street

BLOG | A View From John Street

We caught up with John Osborne, author of the excellent View From The John Streetto get the low-down on United and their season so far.

John has been a season ticket holder at Bramall Lane for 47 years.

As a journalist he worked for weekly and provincial daily sports desks, including the old Morning Telegraph in Sheffield.

He then joined the national press, first in Manchester and then London.

He tells us of his time at the Morning Telegraph:

“My boss at the time didn’t like me going to Bramall Lane for the paper as he feared bias.

“So I got more than my fair share of suffering in the Press box at Hillsborough during the Jack Charlton/Howard Wilkinson eras.

“I used to travel on the team coach to away matches then – young Mel Sterland was quite a character –and stay with the team in hotels.

“As a Blade I always felt uncomfortable about that. But someone had to do it and I drew the short straw!”

We spoke to John in order to get the low-down on United and their season so far.

 

 

How has Chris Wilder revitalised United and which players best embody his approach?

 

It is incredible to think that the manager has only been at Bramall Lane for 16 months. By anybody’s standards what he has achieved in such a short space of time has been remarkable. 

The club was on its knees before Nigel Adkins was sacked in May 2016. I have never known such disconnect between it and the fans in all of my 47 years of watching United. 

Wilder arrived with a hatchet, getting rid of the deadwood and introducing a completely new ethos at the Lane. 

Wilder arrived to a mess left by this man

He has an eye for players from the lower leagues who can perform at a higher level. 

No one encapsulates that more than central defender Jake Wright who played under Wilder at Oxford United. Some Blades were initially sceptical, but Wright stepped up from League Two to become a mainstay of our title win last season. 

Wilder also has a priceless ability to get the best out of players who haven’t previously performed well. 

Take right-back Kieron Freeman and midfielder Paul Coutts for example. Both began Wilder’s reign on the transfer list. Freeman, now playing as a wing-back, and Coutts not only were taken off the list, they have become absolutely key to everything that Sheffield United are about.

 

How do United look going into the derby?

 

Evans: likely to be the only survivor from our last meeting?

Having missed out on the opportunity to go top of the Championship last week only eight matches into our return to the second tier, I’d like to say we’re in great shape. 

But injuries to five strikers – Billy Sharp, Clayton Donaldson, former Owls Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke as well as James Hansen – have left United desperately short in that department. In the home defeat to Norwich last Saturday – United’s first reverse at the Lane since January – Ched Evans and midfielder David Brooks were used up front. 

Evans has never been fit since he rejoined the club in the summer and needs an ankle operation. Wilder admits he’s only “50 to 60 percent” and the 28-year-old looks it. 

I can’t believe that skipper Sharp and possibly Donaldson or Clarke won’t start. If we’re back to normal up front then yes, we’ll go to Hillsborough full of confidence. If not it’s going to be a long 90 minutes.

 

Who has stood out in a red and white shirt thus far?

 

Jack O’Connell

I’ve already mentioned, Wright, Coutts and Freeman. 

To be honest after the terrific season we’ve just had and the great start to this campaign, there are so many stand-outs. Sharp, of course, top scorer for two seasons running and he leads the way again with four is an obvious choice. 

John Fleck in midfield alongside Coutts, is hugely influential and has great vision. At the back Jack O’Connell has been immense as has Chris Basham, another player who has come on leaps and bounds under Wilder. 

Then there is young David Brooks, star of England’s Toulon Trophy triumph in the summer. He is the most talented and intelligent player I have seen at the Lane for decades. It seems incredible that he only got his first league start last week, and out of position. If he plays down the right of midfield at Hillsborough, Wednesday will have their work cut out to contain him.

 

Who should Wednesday fans be aware of; which player has gone under the radar and will be a big threat?

 

Easy. Brooks.

 

What are your hopes for the game? Can Wilder trump Carvalhal or will it be a more straightforward ‘blood and guts’ affair? How do you expect Wilder will approach it?

 

It’s a Sheffield derby. Of course it’s going to be blood and guts. 

There is so much more to both teams but whether either have the opportunity to show it remains to be seen. Carlos is a tactician and many Owls observers may think our Chris is more of a ‘get stuck-in’ man in the mould of a Neil Warnock. 

Yes, Wilder demands full-blooded commitment, but he has plenty more in his repertoire. 

I think the two managers’ characters compliment each other. Last week Wilder uncharacteristically lost it at the Lane being sent to the stands after booting the ball and a couple of water bottles. 

Trouble was it was in front of Norwich boss Daniel Farke inside the Canaries technical area. A bit worrying, that. But I’d be surprised if such hot-headedness is repeated any time soon. 

 

What do you expect to see from this Wednesday side? What worries you about the home team?

 

Bannan: one to watch

If it plays out to plan I expect Wednesday to come at us for the first 15 minutes all guns blazing. 

If we can weather that and find our rhythm then it will be much more of an even contest. 

Your strike power looks formidable and Barry Bannan can be a game-changer in midfield. Wednesday have had two seasons now developing the squad and spending big money. The Owls are far more settled whereas we are still very much a work in progress.

 

Will you be there? Any good or bad memories of visiting Hillsborough as a fan in the past?

 

Where else could I possibly be come Sunday lunchtime. 

I have to say I’m not one of those who enjoys derby matches; too much at stake. Our former boss Bryan Robson, an unmitigated disaster, once said “it’s just another three points at stake”. Shows what he knew and he didn’t last long after that. 

My introduction to the derby couldn’t have been worse. Yes you’ve guessed. 

The Boxing Day massacre of 1979 at Hillsborough. Character building. 

Defeat in the last meeting in 2012 had huge repercussions. You went on to win promotion to the Championship and we, having looked so good for so long, crashed an burned in the cruellest of play-off finals against Huddersfield which was decided on the 22nd spot kick. 

The FA Cup semi-final defeat at Wembley was another hard one to take.

“It should have been 10-1”

But there have been good times, too. Probably the most memorable for me was our 2001 win at Hillsborough. 

I’d already booked a trip to Hawaii a milestone birthday present for my wife, Sue, then the original date match date was switched to the day we were due to leave. 

Flights were cancelled, money paid to arrange replacements and time in the air increased from 18 hours to 36 both ways. But it was worth it to see Laurent D’Jaffo and Carl Asaba put us 2-0 up before Gerald Sibon made it squeaky bum time. 

I have a treasured picture of smiling boss Warnock hugging defender Shaun Murphy on the pitch when the final whistle blew. Magic Oh yes, and my wife is very understanding! 

 

Can United sustain their position in the table?

 

It’s a big ask but like most Blades I think if anyone is capable of squeezing the maximum out of what he’s got it is Chris Wilder. He wasn’t backed properly in the summer transfer window in terms of quality. 

Only two of his ten signings were from the Championship, the rest from the lower leagues. 

If we can reach the New Year in good shape, I think the clubs co-owners and our Saudi prince in particular, who bought a 50 per cent share for £1 four years ago but has offered little ever since, will step up to the plate. 

He was described as a “game-changer” after all. If that happens and with Wilder directing operations anything is possible. 

 

 

Thanks again to John for answering our questions so thoroughly and providing us with a terrific insight.

We would like to wish him the best for Sunday, but, you know.

You can catch up with our own derby memories, including Sean’s Boxing Day Massacre ramble, by clicking the respective links.

Stick with us over the next few days as we continue our derby day build up.

Owls Alive
E-MAIL: owlsalive@gmail.com
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @ViewFromJohnSt

Images: SWFC, unless stated.


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