It is the billion dollar question.
And, as the weary expression which creeps across Nigel Clough’s face every time it’s posed serves to remind, the most frequently asked during Sheffield United’s media briefings too.
Why does a team capable of beating West Ham, Queens Park Rangers and Southampton, not to mention give Tottenham Hotspur a God Almighty scare, find itself seventh in the League One table?
Events at White Hart Lane on Wednesday evening, where Mauricio Pochettino’s side required an Andros Townsend penalty to break the visitors’ resistance, revealed the answer. Whether or not anyone cares to look, though, is an entirely different matter. Certainly those with personal agendas, which include propagating the social media myth that Clough would blame Marc McNulty for the world oil price crash if he thought he could get away with it, won’t. (But, come to think of it, does anyone of sound mind really care?)
Make no mistake, the first leg of a Capital One Cup semi-final which paired together two venerable but markedly different footballing institutions, should have been a bloodbath.
Sixth in the Premier League and fielding a squad boasting 411 international caps and £125.2m worth of talent, those Spurs supporters behind the press box who declared the 1-0 scoreline as a “******* embarrassment” certainly thought so too.
But Pochettino didn’t. Even taking the usual post-match pleasantries into account.
Instead, after commending United for the disciplined nature of their performance, the Argentine explained how difficult it is to unpick opponents whose sole aim is to contain rather than create. Clough would doubtless argue with this simplistic assessment but, ahead of next week’s return at Bramall Lane, you get the point.
United, against the likes of Walsall, Colchester and even MK Dons, face exactly the same challenge on a regular basis. The recent outing in North London was, as Clough had predicted beforehand, a welcome case of roles reversed.
So the billion dollar question shouldn’t be ‘Why?’ It should be ‘How?’
How do United best go about unravelling a puzzle which at first glance appears easy to solve but, as Pochettino will testify, clearly isn’t.