Sheffield United: How the controversial fixture schedule has forced a change of plan ahead ahead of Preston North End's visit

He has already expressed his displeasure and instructed Bramall Lane's hierarchy to petition the English Football League.

Friday, 21st September 2018, 2:45 pm
Updated Friday, 21st September 2018, 2:47 pm
Sheffield United played Birmingham City on Wednesday

Now, as his team prepares to host Championship rivals Preston North End, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is opening another front in the battle against a fixture calendar which, according to his calculations, represents a significant handicap to the South Yorkshire club.

Enjoying less than 72 hours recuperation time between Wednesday's meeting with Birmingham City and tomorrow's match at Bramall Lane, Wilder's players are locked in a race against time to ready themselves for a fixture which could see them move to within touching distance of the early leaders. The visitors, who faced Marcelo Bielsa's side on Tuesday evening, cross the Pennines rested, refreshed and completely abreast of Alex Neil's game plan.

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"The biggest thing is the recovery," Wilder said. "We did hardly anything the next day. We have lads who travel in the group as well so they had to be in early. 

"Listen, I'm not getting the violin out. Modern day Championship players are well paid and so they have to make sacrifices which we do. But you have to adjust what you do and we've had to do it."

Why Wilder's words should resonate:

If the situation was a one-off, Wilder's complaints would carry very little weight. The trouble is, for United, Derby County and Wigan Athletic, it is a pattern which is set to be repeated throughout the campaign. Expanded television coverage, and the schedule changes required to facilitate its introduction, has left Wilder's squad facing a situation whereby they will never enjoy more preparation time than an opponent after a midweek fixture. Something, with other divisional rivals almost always in the black, the 50-year-old believes should force the EFL to act.

Sheffield United played Birmingham City on Wednesday

His concerns were raised at a meeting of member clubs on Thursday and, The Star understands, garnered support from at least three other teams.

"I used to have something in my office saying 'Have you picked the right team?' That goes right back," Wilder said. "It was there, the last thing you saw before going out onto the pitch.

"Picking the right team is key. Lots of things, current form, who you are playing and your schedule, gets factored into it."

The key decisions:

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

Neil, Wilder's opposite number, has similar decisions to make as he attempts to arrest a disappointing run of form tracing back to the second round of the campaign. Twenty-third in the table, Preston have not taken maximum points in the Championship since the opening day. Their last away win came at Bramall Lane in April, a result which ended United's hopes of reaching the top six.

"You get all sorts of statistics thrown at you," Wilder, whose team were sixth when he addressed the media, continued. "To be honest, I'm not bothered about them and Alex won't be either." "It's ruthless, this division, and there's no sympathy for anybody," Wilder added. "We're all out to win games of football. 

"When they won here, in the 45th game of last season, they weren't bothered about us when they walked away. If you don't play well, you drop down a division. If you click, and they've got good players and good characters, you'll do well.  "They've got characters who have done what they've done under Alex and Simon (Grayson) before him. They've not done it with a cheque book, they've done it sensibly.'

'˜Don't believe the hype':

Sheffield United play Preston North End at Bramall Lane

Despite the intensity of the competition, the respect Wilder has for Neil became evident when he referenced the Scot's managerial CV. The tribute also contained a thinly disguised warning to his own players, who also made a slow start before climbing the rankings.

"They'll be looking for that 'QPR moment' that we had," Wilder said. "When we got that first win. We have to make sure it doesn't happen, that they don't have that moment now.

"I don't understand why people have to spin everything. There's times when yes, you have to protect people or do the right thing by your club. Alex has had good success, managed in the Premier League with Norwich after getting his hands dirty with Hamilton and is at a good club now."