Alan Biggs: Why I think Chris Wilder should stick to his guns as he aims to get Sheffield United into the Premier League
If Sheffield United had spent anywhere near the amount invested by their Championship rivals a few fingers would be pointing.
And perhaps with some justification. The fact is they haven’t – barely a fraction – and so any gripes are sour and ungrateful.
This is not to whitewash a manager and team winning only two of their last 12 league matches but to understand that football’s bottom line is catching up with them.
What should be accepted, yet suddenly isn’t, is that to lose narrowly – harshly at that – to an Aston Villa of immeasurably higher value is actually an achievement considering Chris Wilder has expended little more than £5m in turning a newly promoted team into unlikely promotion hopefuls.
It was always probable that they would be caught a little short. Little is the operative word.
The margins of losing to the likes of Fulham, Bristol City and Villa have been incredibly fine. Some brilliant goals – as per Rob Snodgrass’s on Tuesday – have landed in their net while relentless pressure at the other end has gone unrewarded.
Ex Blade Kevin Gage unearthed a stat on Twitter that United’s opposition collectively have the best scoring ratio in the Championship, netting on average from around 42 per cent of their shots on target.
But this is not a hard luck story. It’s the way it is. If you overload without reward at one end you can be short at the other. Maybe a certain naivety has been exposed, as in Rob Snodgrass being allowed to turn inside for the midweek winner, albeit a brilliant strike. And who can pick the lock if Mark Duffy is out or on the bench?
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Above all, United have not found the invention and quality – not quite, that is – to turn their attacking approach into goals. That, too, comes down to pounds, shillings and pence; the same equation presented at runaway leaders Wolves on Saturday.
So the only surprise is that a few fans, perhaps giddy on achieving so much against the odds, are dissatisfied.
But the cause is not lost while an ultra-positive attitude remains. Some suggest, with reasoning, that Wilder should settle for a point occasionally, with the Bristol City and Villa home games coming to mind. I’d ask: what has got United into this position in the first place?
Certainly not caution. Look at how the wins were achieved. It’s only by surprising opponents that the Blades are in unexpected territory.
Let’s be honest, they’re not going down, are they? So if the season is to be kept alive in terms of the top six – and let’s not forget being in the FA Cup fifth round – I think Wilder would be well advised to stick to his guns.
The alternative is to settle for mid-table. It still wouldn’t be mediocrity – but I don’t think that word has entered this manager’s vocabulary.