3 November 2023
By Roger Kennedy
It never rains but it pours.
Sheffield United, with just one point from their opening ten games of the 2023/24 Premier League season, must somehow try to battle relegation despite suffering an injury list that would leave even the giants of football rattled – nine players are currently absent from the Blades squad.
Amongst them is the club captain, Cork man John Egan, whose loss will be cruelly felt by a side desperate for leadership and defensive solidity.
Through the Trapdoor
Of course, Sheffield United were never even considered by the majority in the Premier League title odds, with the likes of Manchester City (4/6), Arsenal (9/2) and Liverpool (9/2) operating on an entirely different plain to the modest resources at Bramall Lane.
But the Premier League relegation odds… well, those are something for Blades fans to fear. Their current price of 1/12 indicates an implied probability of some 92.3% – that doesn’t exactly leave the club’s manager, Paul Heckingbottom, with much in the way of wriggle room.
Ever-present, dependable, a Bladesman through and through. The man to lead us back into the Premier League.
The new captain of Sheffield United Football Club, John Egan. ©️ pic.twitter.com/YlTdOIzFX3
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) August 11, 2023
He’ll have to navigate a course away from the bottom three without a number of key faces too. Egan was over the moon to be installed as Sheffield United captain in the summer, but his season has been derailed by a severe Achilles injury that may see him miss the bulk of the campaign.
It’s a cruel blow to lose the 31-year-old, who is joined on the treatment table by the likes of Chris Basham, Rhys Norrington-Davies and Tom Davies – all key figures in any hope the Blades have of masterminding the unlikeliest of great escapes.
Nine defeats in ten games is worrying form by any measure, but the nature of some of those losses is what will strike fear into Heckingbottom and his players – 0-8 against Newcastle United, 0-5 against Arsenal and 1-3 against lowly Fulham all indicative of their struggles.
Egan, a 200-game veteran for the club, has been here before after tasting relegation to the Championship at the end of the 2020/21 season. How the Blades would love to have his nous and knowhow available to them now…
A Glimmer of Hope
So is there any chance that Egan and Sheffield United can avoid another relegation?
The outlook is not promising, however the rate at which promoted teams survive in the top flight should provide at least a crumb or two of comfort.
Over the course of the past 20 Premier League seasons, at least one of the promoted teams has avoided relegation on 19 occasions. And in 13 of those years, at least two of the sides that ascended from the Championship survived in their first top-flight campaign.
So there’s every chance, historically speaking, that one of Sheffield United, Luton Town and Burnley will stay up this term… but which one?
Of the trio, perhaps it’s the Clarets that have shown the most mettle thus far, but in 2019/20 it was the Blades that added their name to the survivors list – will history repeat itself in 2023/24?