Sheffield United have won promotion back to the Premier League, capping off an unbelievable season under Chris Wilder.
The Blades beat Ipswich Town 2-0 on Saturday to book their place in the top flight. After a 12-year absence, Sheffield United are a Premier League club once again.
Blades and have watched boyhood fans Wilder and captain Billy Sharp guide the club to the Premier League, with both living out a dream campaign. The planning for next season will have already started, as they look to avoid relegation next term.
United were winning promotion from League One just two years ago, and are already back in the Premier League. They’ve bypassed Preston, despite North End essentially having a two year ‘head start’ on the Blades.
Preston are performing admirably, but we all know there are things that could be improved upon. The way United have built quickly in the Championship has been admirable, and there are maybe some ideas North End can look to emulate or maximise this summer.
Of course, United are a bigger club than North End, with great crowds and a bigger budget. Still, there are ways Preston can take some inspiration from their promotion…
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Reinvest cash from player sales smartly
The Blades lost star playmaker David Brooks to Bournemouth last summer, which brought in £11.5million. They were able to reinvest that money on Wilder’s squad, splashing £4million on a proven Championship defender in John Egan. Then came a loan deal for Oliver Norwood, which became permanent for £2million in January. Those were the only two permanent cash signings United made after selling Brooks. Smartly reinvesting the money from Brooks’ departure on just two proven players helped get the Blades into the top flight. We can’t ignore the presence of billionaire co-owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, but he’s hardly bankrolled the club to promotion. North End may expect to sell Callum Robinson for a similar price to Brooks this summer, and whilst £4million signings are unlikely, bringing in players like Brad Potts – in that £1million to £2million bracket – could help North End.
There’s nothing wrong with experienced free agents
Alex Neil has admitted that he wants more experience in his North End squad, and United are a great example. They weren’t afraid to make ‘unfashionable’ free signings last summer. Martin Cranie and Conor Washington both arrived, as did David McGoldrick. The latter was let go by Ipswich Town, but was named United’s Player of the Year after a superb campaign. Adding a couple of players with a little more Championship know-how could help North End’s squad, especially in terms of depth. We’re not saying load up with 35-year-olds, certainly not after Ian Ashbee, but just a hint of experience could take North End up a level.
Loanees can give you the added quality
North End don’t tend to use the loan market much. Under Alex Neil, Stephy Mavididi, Brandon Barker and Lukas Nmecha are the only loanees signed. Nmecha is the only one of the three that can really be classed as a success to, which may dissuade North End from signing more loan players. However, Sheffield United have used the loan market admirably. Dean Henderson, Kieran Dowell, Gary Madine and Scott Hogan are just some of the loanees signed by Wilder, and all played key roles in promotion. You can imagine that the wage contribution on Madine and Hogan is far beyond what North End would even consider. However, it goes to show that the right loan players can have a huge impact, despite Preston’s patchy record with such deals in recent years.
Top players can come from anywhere
North End have already done this brilliantly. Tom Barkhuizen has excelled since arriving from Morecambe, Darnell Fisher has made a mockery of the Rotherham fans who slated him, and Andrew Hughes has impressed after joining from Peterborough United. North End have even got a lot out of Alan Browne and Seani Maguire from Cork City. They may come from unfashionable clubs for low prices, but it’s a strategy North End should persist with given the size of the club. You only have to look down Sheffield United’s squad list to see the mix of players; George Baldock came from MK Dons, Enda Stevens from Portsmouth, John Fleck from Coventry, Chris Basham from Blackpool, John Lundstram from Oxford United, Mark Duffy from the shadows at Birmingham City, the list goes on. If North End sign a player from League One or League Two this summer – which is likely to happen – don’t write them off.
Bring the punters in with clever ticket offers
It’s a topic I don’t really like to talk about, but it’s a factor in Sheffield United’s rise. The Blades have the fifth-highest average attendance in the Championship this season, and their fanbase has played their part in promotion. Sheffield United have the joint-best home record in the division, and full houses at Bramall Lane have had an impact. Conversely, North End have won just eight home league games this season. A lack of game-breaking creativity is one reason, but the average home attendance is only better than six clubs. Playing at Deepdale has been a problem for some time now.
Fans want North End to introduce ticket offers at key moments in the season, and United have used this perfectly. For the promotion run-in, they offered fans four games for the price of three. Two wins, a draw and a defeat came in those games, and North End need to be more flexible with such ideas, in an attempt to make Deepdale a fortress again when needed most.