Sheffield United: Chris Wilder outlines how his team can keep up with the Championship's Ferraris

It might not have been his finest, funniest or most original analogy during two-and-a-half seasons in the job but, when Chris Wilder compared the battle for promotion to an automobile race, he hit the nail squarely on the head.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 20th December 2018, 5:51 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th December 2018, 5:58 pm
Sheffield United travel to Ipswich Town on Saturday: James Wilson/Sportimage
Sheffield United travel to Ipswich Town on Saturday: James Wilson/Sportimage

"We'll keep driving our car against the Ferraris," the Sheffield United manager said. "Our one has got better but it's still not one of those. We're getting the maximum out of the engine and we are keeping up."

On Saturday, when they face the Championship's bottom club Ipswich Town in their final fixture before Christmas, Wilder's squad will be expected to win the game. It is an unusual and, Wilder acknowledged during yesterday's pre-match press conference, uncomfortable position for a group more accustomed to punching above its weight. Some observers might beg to differ, including many inside Bramall Lane. But as they jostle for position towards the top of the table, the 51-year-old is refusing to change a narrative which portrays United as plucky underdogs swinging punches at the division's financial heavyweights.

"We've always had that mentality, that we are up against the big boys, and that for the majority of games we are going in against the odds," Wilder continued. "That's not a tactic used by me, that's a fact. 

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"But it doesn't stop us wanting to achieve. It shouldn't be seen as a lack of desire. We want to be the best we possibly can and we want to do something. But we are competing against people who can spend fortunes without really thinking about it and we've got really close to them."

Although Wilder was keen to hammer home United's ambition during an upbeat briefing at the Steelphalt Academy, his words can also be interpreted as a coded message ahead of next month's transfer window. Fifth in the table, only seven points behind second-placed Norwich City, Wilder's squad is tantalisingly close to mounting a serious challenge for Premier League football. But last week's narrow defeat by West Bromwich Albion, who recently reported a near £90m wage bill, exposed a number of weaknesses he believes must be addressed before it realises its potential.

"Against them, for 35 minutes we were outstanding," Wilder said. "Even the second half, we probably have had the two best chances. Billy (Sharp) has had a chance, David McGoldrick's had a chance at the back stick. They're doing fantastic but we need to make more of what we're creating and take care of those big moments.

"It's plainly obvious, we want to - need to - boost the group in January with two or three players coming in. We want to up the level. Good players are never scared of competition."

"We are competing at the top end of the Championship," he added. "It's really difficult for me, because I don't want to be too critical of the players. Their record over the last two-and-a-half years, a lot of those players came up from League One are still with us.

"But I want to keep driving them forward. I am not going to change the style of management, our approach as staff, to try and get the maximum out of them. It's quite a tough one to talk about after the game, because I think everyone recognises we are really close to these top clubs, really powerful clubs."

United's preparations for the visit to Portman Road have taken place against a back drop of activity in the market where, despite their budgetary constraints, Wilder believes progress is being made.

"We are quite excited about one or two that we have worked really hard to make happen," he said, confirming a centre-forward and attacking midfielder, to compete with Mark Duffy, are top priorities. "Maybe one we will have to wait on. 

"We are in a host of clubs looking to improve. We can't just say 'yes' whatever it costs and blow everybody else out of the water. But we are in an okay position to improve, and that's what we will do."

One of United's most influential performers this term, McGoldrick, arrived as a free agent in July and, barring injury or illness, is expected to face his former employers for the first time since being released over the summer. Leon Clarke could also feature against opponents who recorded only their second win of the campaign, and first under Paul Lambert, six days ago.

Reflecting upon McGoldrick's goal during the 2-1 loss to West Brom, Wilder said: "He's a genuinely talented footballer who can finish.

"But for one reason or another this year, he has missed a couple through great saves and great blocks. If he can get 15-plus goals, and you wouldn't back him not to, that's been a decent Championship season for him."