Momentum dragged Sheffield United into a relegation battle this season, and momentum can drag them out of it according to Phil Jagielka.
Having waited until January for their first win in all competitions this term, the Blades have now won four of their last five matches. With a 10-point gap to Premier League safety to make up in 18 matches, there is still a huge amount to do, but the mood in the dressing room has shifted and 38-year-old Jagielka believes it could be significant.
On the face of it, the Blades’ chances of extending their points tally tomorrow would appear slim as they are away to the team top of the league and high on confidence after an excellent run of results.
However, what is true of Manchester City now could be said of Manchester United at the start of the week before the Blades’ remarkable 2-1 win at Old Trafford.
The side which finished ninth in their first season back in the Premier League in 2019-20 are in the mood to fight off a relegation which seemed almost inevitable after two points from the first 17 matches.
“Last season we got momentum early on, which helped us,” said centre-back Jagielka, part of the Blades side last relegated from the top flight in 2007. “This season we didn’t, we got momentum the wrong way.
“It’s all about getting that momentum if we can and kicking on.”
The importance of confidence cannot be under-estimated in a division where the margins between the bottom teams and those outside the European positions can often be so fine. After Manchester City, the Blades host a West Bromwich Albion team who have lost four of their last six games, conceding 20 goals in the process, as well as being knocked out of the FA Cup to League One Blackpool on penalties.
The Blades saw what momentum can do when they went winless in their first 16 Division One matches of the 1990-91 season. A 3-2 victory at home to Nottingham Forest broke their duck, and was the first of 11 wins in 15 league games. They finished the season in 13th.
Jagielka was one of the few Blades players born then, but manager Chris Wilder played in the victory over Forest, one of 16 starts that season.
Thirty years on, early-season performances were better than 15 defeats in their first 17 league matches suggested, and former England international Jagielka insists the spirit has not wavered.
“It’s something that shouldn’t be levelled at us because it’s never been the case, we’ve just been in games and made errors at the wrong time,” he argued. “It’s been a difficult, frustrating season.
“I’ve watched quite a lot of these games and we’ve been in a lot of them but confidence has been low.
“Thankfully we’ve picked that up a little bit in the cup runs and it’s now time for us to kick on in this second half of the season and try and put ourselves at least in the mix and see where we go.
“When things happen in games the confidence gets drained that little bit quicker and that’s natural because of the negativity of losing by the odd goal and probably not getting exactly what we think we deserve out of games.
“But the togetherness is still there, the boys are digging in.
“Rhian (Brewster, their substitute centre-forward) was at left-back at the end of (Wednesday’s) game defending.
“It proves everyone is in it together, we just need that little bit of luck and to pick up some points.
“If we looked at the squad it was very thin in the morning and the manager had to pick 11 players to go out there and we had to prove what we were about. We did that to a man. The lads showed the desire to go out there and not only get a result but try to win the game.
“We played some good stuff and put our bodies on the line.”
Kean Bryan, who scored his first goal for the club playing out of position at left wing-back on Wednesday, was proud of the fighting spirit his team-mates – depleted by nine absentees through injury and suspension – showed in the face of a task many already thought lost.
“The gaffer said before we came just to believe and fight for each other and do everything we could to get the result,” revealed the Manchester-born defender. “That’s what everyone did.
“We’ve just got to fight for every game. We knew it was going to be a difficult challenge going to Old Trafford, we know Saturday is going to be a difficult challenge but the gaffer tells us to fight in every game. We’re in this league because we deserve to be here and the season’s points tally isn’t good enough so we need to work to try and better that but hopefully things can start to change.
“It was a happy dressing room but it was back to the grind when we were back in training and preparing for a big game at the weekend, then the next game, which is West Brom at home. It’s a very hard schedule at the moment so we need to try and recover as best we can and go again at the weekend.”
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