James Shield's Sheffield United Column: The one New Year's resolution Chris Wilder's employers must absolutely make

If Sheffield United plan to make one resolution this New Year then, rather than finding the money to sign an attacking midfielder of Mark Duffy's calibre or lavishing millions on a Premier League striker, it should be ensuring those players already at their disposal remain in situ by the end of the transfer window.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th December 2018, 5:14 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 1:47 am
The Star's James Shield
The Star's James Shield

As football's bi-annual flesh market prepares to open its doors for business, talk of new arrivals will dominate conversations in the pubs, clubs and cafes surrounding Bramall Lane. Chris Wilder's squad is so close, tantalisingly close in fact, to becoming the finished article that such chatter is as understandable as it is inevitable.

But ignoring one of the hidden dangers of United's return to prominence since the 51-year-old was appointed two-and-a-half seasons ago would be as grave a mistake as failing to recruit the proven centre-forward he feels, with plenty of justification, is required to ensure United remain in contention throughout the second half of the campaign.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: David Klein/Sportimage

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As Wilder and his staff attempt to snare their leading targets and scour the rosters of top-flight clubs, it would be foolish to pretend that other managers in the Championship and possibly a division above are not aware of the progress being made by some of those likely to be involved against Blackburn Rovers this weekend.

A combination of circumstances, including their lack of a gargantuan budget and events inside the boardroom, could lead them to believe United are vulnerable to hostile bids. If any materialise, with the battle for the play-off and automatic promotion places so delicately poised, these must be resisted at all costs. Even the type of fee which took David Brooks to AFC Bournemouth last summer. Contracts might mean little these days but they are still, providing one of the parties involves shows resolve, legally binding.

One of United's greatest achievements under Wilder has been their ability to tie their leading names down to long-term deals. It garners very little praise and, save for when the offers become public knowledge, generates too few column inches because, not to put too fine a point on it, such work is pretty unsexy.

There are, of course, financial implications. Costs to be borne, most likely, by the winner of the battle for control between Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. But as the co-owners seemingly acknowledge, they pale into insignificance compared to those involved in recruiting comparable replacements. Hence the importance of bringing talks with the likes of Enda Stevens, Paul Coutts and Billy Sharp, who scored his 14th of the season during Boxing Day's win over Derby County, to swift and positive conclusions.

Sheffield United must keep the players they have already got: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

United must strengthen to keep pace with their fellow contenders and stay ahead of those intent on hunting them down. Given the sheer volume of chances they create, to exploit those "big moments" Wilder is so fond of talking about following key games, two attacking players with the right mentality and personality would certainly be desirable.

But precisely because they are a team in the true sense of the word, it could be fatal if any of those who have helped lift United to fourth in the table are spirited away over the coming month. Even though, as the presence of John Fleck, John Egan and George Baldock in South Yorkshire demonstrates, even those sides who have their leading poached simply go and take out their revenge on ones lower down the financial foodchain.