Only time will tell if Sheffield United’s failure to translate possession into goals during Saturday’s draw with Charlton Athletic was an aberration or symptomatic of a wider malaise.
But one thing is for certain. Chris Wilder, who was furious with his players following Patrick Bauer’s last gasp equaliser, expects a response when Walsall visit Bramall Lane tonight.
“For us to dominate like we did and come away with only a point is criminal,” he said. “What I will say, though, is that I’ve never got too high when we’ve done well and so I won’t get two low now. We’ve got a game in hand coming up and it’s important we do better in that.”
United dropped out of the automatic promotion positions when Bauer, having spent most of the game chasing shadows, cancelled-out Mark Duffy’s opener with only seconds to spare. But a win over Jon Whitney’s side, who were scheduled to make the journey north on October 8 until international call-ups forced a postponement, would see them climb above Bolton Wanderers in second place.
“I said my bit in the dressing room afterwards,” Wilder acknowledged. “Sometimes I’ve let them sort it out but, in management, sometimes you’ve got to give people a reminder. And they’ve been reminded, don’t worry about that.
“Because they are good players, with good attitudes, they’ll accept it and take it on the chin. It’s just a case of asking people ‘do we want to be in the race or do we want to be the ones people are chasing?’ We know which one that is.”
Wilder, who expects to be without Jake Wright (hamstring) against Walsall, denied his post-match address resembled a “crisis talk.” Indeed, given that United remain unbeaten in 15 league outings, it is a measure of the progress they have made in recent months that he felt compelled to make the point at all. But, having scored 26 goals in seven matches before the 2-1 defeat of Shrewsbury Town earlier this month, he is disappointed they have now claimed only four in three. Reversing that trend, assuming United play with the same aggression and fluency which have characterised their work of late, will be a target against Walsall.
“To get into the positions we did and have been doing, it means there’s a lot of good play going on,” Wilder said. “You don’t get into them if you don’t play well. It’s a tough division and so, for us to do that, there’s a lot of good things happening. So we’ve got to learn from the experiences and turn from a good team into an even better one. That’s the job of myself and the coaching staff.”
“I think we’re a decent side, people recognise that, but it’s not enough for me,” Wilder added. “I want us to take that step between being an alright team into a very decent team. And out there, we were an alright team. That’s not enough for me. We should have done it better, I’m not going to disguise that.”
Although Wilder’s mood had improved by the time the media descended upon United’s training complex yesterday, he admitted: “It’s been a difficult weekend because my thoughts on what happened didn’t change. But we have to move on and we’ve got good players who want to do well. Their goal game from a catalogue of errors. If somebody makes a mistake, make sure there isn’t a second and a third. But, on the positive side, we went down to a club that’s in-form, is expected to do well, and dominated. I spoke to a few supporters after the game and they seem pretty happy with how things are going.”
Walsall are 17th after holding Southend to a goalless draw last weekend. With Whitney using the fixture to unveil a new two-pronged attack and his side boasting wins over Millwall and Bolton this term, Wilder used United’s press conference to predict the visitors will adopt an expansive rather than cautious approach tonight.
“If I was a betting man, I’d say they are going to come and have a go,” he said. “They are very open and like to move the ball. For them to go from Saturday to Tuesday and change tact would be very difficult. They like to play and I think they’ll come and try to get that first goal. But we won’t really know until we get deep into the game.”