THE next eight days could decide Sheffield United’s season.
Retain their most coveted players and it would take a brave or foolhardy punter to bet against them challenging for a top-six place come the end of the campaign.
Lose the likes of Nick Montgomery, Lee Williamson or Stephen Quinn before the deadline for new signings and Bramall Lane’s immediate future is likely to depend upon Danny Wilson’s ability to unearth some diamonds in a marketplace full of mediocrity.
But, for the past 24 hours at least, the only thing occupying his thoughts has been dumping Everton out of the Carling Cup.
“It’s going to be very hard,” Wilson said. “And probably physical too.
“All of the top-flight lads are very powerful and Everton aren’t a team that just looks to waltz around you.
“Yes, they can play some good stuff but they’re also strong and aggressive.”
“We’ve got to be disciplined and enthusiastic,” added Wilson.
“We’ll have to raise our game but we can do that.
“I want us to put in a performance and by that I don’t necessarily mean knocking it around like Barcelona.
“I mean being nice and solid and strong.”
United will discover a ground drowning in disillusionment when they arrive at Goodison Park for tonight’s second round tie.
Bill Kenwright, their opponent’s chairman, laid bare Everton’s threadbare finances in stark fashion before Saturday’s Premier League meeting with Queens Park Rangers and morale plunged even lower following a 1-0 defeat.
Having taken a huge financial hit after relinquishing their Championship status last term, United’s board of directors will sympathise with the impresario’s predicament.
But Wilson will be acutely aware that it makes his task much harder.
Everton, like the visitors, would welcome the boost in revenue that reaching the later stages of the tournament brings.
In normal circumstances Tim Cahill, who has used his Twitter account to describe this evening’s fixture as a “massive” game, Mikel Arteta and possibly even Phil Jagielka might all have been rested or left on the bench for a meeting against lower-league opposition.
David Moyes, Wilson’s counterpart, is unlikely to risk such a gamble given Kenwright’s recent admission.
“I walk around the ground and see Everton old boys being treated like heroes,” Phil Neville, their captain, said.
“Hopefully that will be me in 10 years time and, if we don’t win anything when I’m here, then it won’t be.
“It’s time for us to start delivering.”
Nevertheless, with an important trip to Yeovil Town looming large on the horizon, United could choose to reshuffle their own pack.
Stephen Quinn will feature despite receiving treatment on a long-standing back problem while Ryan Flynn should also come into contention after recovering from a hamstring complaint.
However, new signing Kevin McDonald is set to be out for at least a fortnight after Wilson revealed his ankle injury is worse than first feared.
“It’s ligaments unfortunately,” he said.
“We didn’t think it was as serious as that but Kevin looks as if he’ll be missing for a couple of weeks.”
Wilson, though, has reassured supporters that not only is he desperate to preserve United’s unbeaten record this term but also claim what, despite Everton’s off-the-pitch problems, would be a prized scalp.
“I don’t think what’s happening there will directly affect their lads,” said Wilson.
“It’s probably more likely to bother the fans but, if it does and that transmits itself to their boys, then of course we’ll take it.”
Being beaten by QPR will, according to Wilson, only provide extra incentive for Everton to progress.
“They were a bit unfortunate in that one, to be fair,” he said.
“We watched the game and they created some good chances because they’ve got lads who can score across the park.
“Probably enough to have taken something from the match.
“But they’ll want to get their season up and running by beating us and we’ll be doing our utmost to try and make sure that doesn’t happen.
“I know David will be taking this tournament very seriously and he’ll want to do well.
“And we do too.”