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06/07: Preview: Sheffield United
Opposition Opinion
By Blades Fan Mick Nicholson

What happened last season?
Given the exclusive nature of this season's preview, I'd say the question is somewhat superfluous.

See what promotion does to people? More pertinently, see what promotion does to people who live in solid Leeds territory? After all the years of being patronised, it's my turn to be wearing the potato products on each shoulder and given I'm writing this in the aftermath of Crystal Palace v Leeds United Of The Championship™ then I reckon a bit of smugness can be excused.

Great campaigns, you feel, have a single, focal moment when you leap in the air and go "Yeah, that's it!" For example the winning goal in the game which means you know no-one else can catch you. Or, more memorably, when a shot heading for the corner flag à la Tiger Woods putt hits an opposition defender, then the post, then the back of the keeper's head, before rolling j-u-u-u-u-u-u-st over the line. One mental moment, one joyous release. One team didn't have one. "Typical Blades", we all said to one another, but for the first time for decades it was said with a big grin rather than the usual despair.

Summer 05 saw a Faustian pact between Neil Warnock and some cash and, under pressure for the first time, he carried it off. Not all his signings were raging successes - and were it not for the celebratory nature of this preview you'd need extra bandwidth if I let loose my feelings on his January signings - but most of it worked well enough to see us out of the blocks quick enough to build up a big enough buffer for the inevitable lactic acid overload on the home straight.

Key players? Nicely spread around. Unsworth, Short and Jagielka till Xmas, Armstrong, Tonge and Webber after. And Neil Shipperley throughout, for being - at the 634th time of asking - the big centre forward Warnock has been searching for all his lfe.

Key moments? Well, I lied earlier. We did get a "Yes!" moment. The injury-time winner at home to Hull on the weekend Watford and Leeds first felt the weight of expectation and decided they didn't like it very much. Afterwards - once I could jump and scream and shout no more - the serenity of the certainty of promotion washed over me and I was visited by ghosts of players past - Ian Hamilton, Bobby Ford, Ashley "Helios" Ward - for the final time as I underwent a kind of exorcism on the late train home. Good stuff, Stones Bitter, you lads should try a few when you come this year.

What will happen this season?
Well, as neither I nor any of my close personals in The Clique are tabloid journos, we don't know. They know, of course; we are going straight back down along with either Reading or Watford, or both, and who are we to argue? Especially when their mates the Bookmakers are saying the same thing.

What I do know is that whilst Reading were doing their impression of Brazil circa 1982 and Watford were doing their impression of, well, Watford circa 1982 we were the team able to do both, maybe not as well (say, circa 1981), but it's this versatility that gives us enough hope to think we might make a fist of it. In last season's terms, we wont do a Sunderland, but wont do a West Ham/Wigan either.

We've brought in a tranche of new players - some good, some "squadbuilders" and some we've no idea about and the challenge is going to get the right ones adding to the first team without losing the spirit of the promoted team. Can he pull it off? In my heart of hearts I don't think so, but he proved me wrong last year and deserves the backing of all fans this year on the back of that.

Whatever happens, we'll just enjoy the ride. It's taken too long to get here to moan about it being difficult. If we win enough we'll stay up, if not and we go down, well we've been there long enough to know it's not the end of the world. We want to enjoy Premiership football, but not to turn into Premiership fans. We don't want Richard Keys telling us it doesn't get any bigger than playing Middlesbrough at home. We don't want Andy Gray telling us our entire season revolves around the next 45 minutes sometime in September. We don't want to be ringing You're On Sky Sports or Rodney Marsh on talkWhitevanman. We don't want to view Prem Plus as vital to our emotional wellbeing. And we don't want to be buying up train tickets for away game without knowing if we can get a ticket. But that's already happening.

Going down, going down, going down...
In view of the need for a bit of Championship solidarity with our Herts and Berks brethren, I feel it's important we look at the established Prem clubs and remind ourselves it doesn't have to be us that gets relegated.

Arsenal - No-one told them about the ancient Gypsy site now buried under Ashburton Grove. Suddenly the dives are no just due to their exceptional gravity-obeying tendancies. Zero home wins all season.

Villa - Doug changes his mind and stays. O'Neill ups and offs like he did from Norwich under Chase.

Blackburn Rovers - Difficult to see how they can destroy their hard work. How about Lucas Neill turning on his own once he's cleared the pitch of opponents on two legs.

Bolton - Big Sam continues to sulk at not getting the England job. All the squad leave for jobs as Associates at Asda with the rest of the grey haired populace. Kevin Davies come home.

Charlton - Iain Dowie's homesickness for the part of the country he's no roots or emotional connection with continues to eat away at his soul. Gets the Torquay job.

Chelsea - Jose catches the last call of the night on 5live where a caller expresses the view if he's that good let's "see how he'd get on at Rochdale". He announces the "Rochdale project interests him greatly" and goes and buys the club. Chelsea appoint David O'Leary as manager, who expresses the hope he can get his young side into the Intertoto. He can't. Rochdale finish 14th.

Everton - After bagging a net-busting seven goals up to Xmas, David Moyes introduces a more cautious approach, particularly at home.

Fulham - Going down anyway

Liverpool - The biggest fraud in world football Harry Kewell suddenly finds some backbone as his contract is changed to a pay-as-you-play job. 38 disinterested sulky strolls later…

Man City - Stuart Pearce doesn't get the sack

Man Utd - Roy Keane and Eric Cantona launch a takeover bid. Club implodes. All Greater Manchester police take holidays in Bermuda on the back over the overtime as the demonstrations become more frequent than vehicles for Carol Vorderman to get on telly.

Middlesborough - Gareth Southgate is Reggie Perrin when he comes back as the pig farmer.

Newcastle United - The pressure of being the biggest club in the world that won 'kall continues to build, as does the expectation of the worlds greatest/most gullible fans until the place turns into a black hole and disappears. Hopefully taking Sunderland with it.

Portsmouth - 'Arry leaves. 'Arry comes back. 'Arry leaves again.'Arry makes another return. People stop caring.

Spurs - Little Chef the venue of choice for all pre-match meals. Andy Reid eclipses Fatty Foulkes as worlds fattest ever footballer.

West Ham - Players blinded by reflection from all the Pearly Kings' outfits as global warming leads to blazing sunshine all year round on the Costa Del Boy

Wigan - Going down anyway. Paul Jewell's Scouse to English translator walks out. A remarkable double for Wigan as the Rugby League club also gets relegated due to the magnificent late season recovery from the subliminal Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. Knock em ovver Trin!