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City travel to Bramall Lane tired but full of hope. Jon Punt spoke to Blades fan Gavin Puszczalowskyi and did his best not to mention Chris Wilder or our ongoing rivalry….
Jon: I'm glad we're into March now, because I've had ample time to get my head around the fact you're doing so well. It no longer sticks in my throat to say you've been a revelation, and all the plaudits coming your way are thoroughly deserved.
The more you achieve however, the harder it becomes. Do you think matches are now becoming more difficult because everyone knows what you're all about, and teams are more alert because of your lofty league position?
Gavin: It's a pleasure and it is fair to say this season has been far more successful than most football fans, pundits (I'm looking, no, glaring at you Garth Crooks and Danny Mills!) and probably most Blades fans thought it would be. We have more points now with 11 games left than amassed in all of our last season in the Premier League. If we beat you on Saturday and results go our way then we go back 5th. That is madness and I chuckle to myself as I type this.
Every game is hard. The reason we are doing so well is Wilder keeps talking about how difficult this league is and how hard we have to work get points. This mentality means we do not ease off against the teams at the bottom (I mean this with huge respect) and only turn up for the big games as some teams can do. We take Brighton and Norwich just as seriously as Liverpool and Man City which is why we are so consistent. We turn up week in, week out.
It just means that when the likes of Chelsea, Spurs and Wolves come to Bramall Lane as they have to do this season they know they will have to be at their very best to beat us.
I was talking about this recently, I really think we've got a chance come Saturday, predominantly because we know what you're all about. That's no disrespect to the miracles the Blades have performed this term, it's just that I think we know what you're all about given our recent encounters, and psychologically you might have just got a smidge comfortable. That's me talking in hope rather than expectation, but I do think our previous battles, all of which have been tight, will stand us in good stead.
Is that how you see things?
The one thing we don't do and haven't done under Chris Wilder is get comfortable. When we won the League One Championship we did so with 100 points, 14 clear of Bolton. We could have taken it easy and coasted home, we pushed for 100 points and achieved it. When we came up to the Championship and topped the table but fell away we could have settled for being back in the Championship. Wilder didn't, he pushed on. And last season we could have settled for a play-off place, we didn't, we pushed on, caught and overtook Leeds and ran you all the way for the title.
Now we have European tournament football to aim for and that gives us something to focus on and push for. It may sound silly that we're pushing for a Champions League place but having only lost to Man City and Liverpool recently and with teams around us having to come to Bramall Lane we won't do comfortable. We will do the absolute opposite. We will push on from here. That is the Wilder way.
If you want to do comfortable and pick up your wages and have a nice life while not achieving a great deal on the pitch, Sheffield Wednesday are the team for you.
I see things being very competitive on Saturday. You got a much needed win against Leicester and are still well in the fight for your Premier League survival. You will come with more confidence than previous games. Our paths have crossed so many times recently you don't look at us at a top 10 Premier League side, you'll see us as Sheffield United and you will believe can win at Bramall Lane. Knowing how we play and stopping it are two very different things, as Daniel Farke knows given the recent head to head games against the Blades.
Yeah I feared you might say that. Worth asking nicely though if you could just be kind on Saturday?
I look at the Carrow Road game where we bossed the first 45 minutes, then switched off, as a real sign there is something for us on Saturday. As you say, you're familiar to us and I think that works in favour of both teams, it should make for an interesting tussle.
Who are the ones to watch for your boys nowadays then? When last we spoke it was Lys Mousset, he doesn't appear to have grabbed many headlines recently?
We were very poor in the first half at Norwich, we haven't had many worse halves than that this season but Wilder got them going after half time and more on the front foot in the second 45. That is how I expect us to start on Saturday. It's how we normally start.
No, Mousset has found himself more as an impact sub recently. It's Billy Sharp who has forced his way back into the starting XI and he has been superb too. I expect him to start with McBurnie, who is improving game by game. Your old favourite McGoldrick has been injured recently but is now back and scored his first goal this season in the FA Cup at Reading on Tuesday night but for me, the ones to look out and the ones who make us tick are Fleck and Norwood in midfield. They were missing against Reading midweek and it showed. We are not the same dominant team in midfield without them, so if they play we play. Sharp loves a goal or two, and a sock puppet celebration against Norwich, so he is definitely one to look out for.
I really like Oliver Norwood, seemed to have bags of potential as a youngster but is only really now starting to fulfil that under a manager who has placed his full trust in him.
What's to come from the Blades in 2020/21 then? I know you defied expectations season after season, but can you really go on building after this campaign? Speaking from experience, seasons 2 and 3 can be a really tricky balance, you have to evolve the squad but retain what got you where you are in the first place.
Oliver Norwood is one of the main reasons we are where we are. A total steal at a mere £2 million from Brighton last season. Superb business.
Next seasons expectations will be the same as this. Stay up. Get to the magic 40 points mark as soon as possible and take stock from there. One good season does not cement your rightful place as a Premier League club. Stay up, receive another boatload of cash for doing so and reinvest wisely on the pitch and off it.
We have a very forward thinking manager backed by a very forward thinking board so the money from the Premier League is key to moving forward.
A very sensible attitude. So given we kind of know what to expect from Saturday, how do you see the match panning out?
I see two teams going at each other. We both need three points for very different reasons. So end to end, both attacking, nobody sitting back hoping to scrape a draw so I am going for goals in this game. I see it being 1-1 at half time. Blades take an early lead but Norwich grow into the game. You equalise late on in the first half. Wilder digs into his team during the interval and the Blades being much sharper after the interval, with Sharp himself doing what he does best and poking home from 4 yards after a game of pinball wizard in the box.
Blades win 2-1 and inch closer to Champions League qualification (it still makes me smile when I type that. Three years ago I saw my side lose 4-1 at Walsall in the league!)
I think if you take the lead you win the game relatively comfortably, but I'm plumping for a 1-0 City win, we have some new found defensive resilience and we'll use that, coupled with a little bit of shithousery to finally give our survival bid a proper shot in the arm.
Norwich shithousing their way to a 1‐0 win at Bramall Lane? Just like the good old days.
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