Sheffield United: The manner of their victory over Reading, not the result itself, should serve The Blades well against WBA
Sheffield United will enter Friday's game against West Bromwich Albion on the back of a victory which, for a whole host of reasons, was perhaps their manager's most satisfying result of the season so far.
On Saturday evening, less than an hour after his team had beaten Reading and climbed to third in the Championship table, Chris Wilder strode towards the exit at the Madejski Stadium before pausing to talk to the press.Â
The 51-year-year-old's demeanor, during his post-match briefings, is always pretty easy to predict. Win and he makes for good, gregarious company. Defeats usually equal an awkward interview. So it was no surprise, having seen his team triumph by two goals to nil, when Wilder spent the best part of half an hour discussing the game, cracking the odd joke and exchanging pleasantries with anyone else who happened to be strolling past.
But there was something about his mood, standing against the light grey walls of a nondescript corridor, which told you he was especially pleased with United's effort.
And, before disappearing into the biting cold air of a Berkshire winter, he explained why the media's suspicions were correct.
"Listen, when we came up into this big old scary division, we were warned we were going to take some beatings and we knew that was probably the case," Wilder smiled. "We knew we'd get beaten, unfortunately everyone loses games even though you don't like it, so it's how you react that counts."
A week before their meeting with Scott Marshall's side, United had lost a hard-fought Yorkshire derby with Leeds after two quick-fire defensive errors had allowed the visitors to score the only goal of the fixture. The disappointment they felt was made even sharper by the knowledge that, until Pablo Hernandez's rolled the ball into an empty net, Marcelo Bielsa's side had only sporadically threatened rather than controlled the fixture. So Wilder viewed the trip to Reading as a test of character. But it was the manner in which they passed it, more so than the result, which pleased Wilder the most.
"We were playing after everyone else, against opponents who no matter what their league position might suggest have got some real experience and quality, and we didn't make the best of starts," he said. "So to stay focused, to keep on going and get the result in the end, for me that told you a lot about the lads.
"It would have been easy for them to think it wasn't going to be their night. Instead, what they did was trust in themselves and how we do things. They got their reward for doing that."
Of course, against a West Brom team also challenging for promotion, United will require more than perseverance in order to record their first win at home since October 27. Reading, who slipped into the relegation zone, appear to be suffering from a dearth of confidence, not character. But a repeat of the below-par first-half showing United produced in the south-east could have serious consequences when Darren Moore's free-scoring team arrive in South Yorkshire.
Nevertheless, there is a school of thought West Brom are the type of team United like to face the most. Darren Moore encourages his men to press forward, which will inevitably cause problem given the quality of their attack, but Wilder's squad should enjoy exploiting the space that approach means they leave at the other end of the pitch.
"We have respect for everyone," Wilder said. "But we also try and impose the way we like to play as well. We'll always try and pick the team we think gives us the best opportunity of coming through but that's at the forefront of our mind too."