Sheffield United: Too old for mind games, but Chris Wilder will refuse to settle for second best for his Blades

By his own admission, Chris Wilder is too long in the tooth to engage in managerial mind-games, and Sheffield United have done all their talking on the pitch this season regardless.

Wednesday, 1st November 2017, 4:05 pm
Updated Monday, 11th December 2017, 4:21 pm
Jamal Blackman of Sheffield Utd receives treatment at QPR. Pic: David Klein/Sportimage

The 50-year-old Blades boss’s comments after his side’s two last games - one a thrilling late victory at Leeds, the other a disappointing defeat at QPR - have offered a glimpse of an insight into his psyche, as he relentlessly drives United on and simply refuses to contemplate any sort of consolidation.

Last Friday, after David Brooks’ late winner sent United top of the Championship, he wasn’t satisfied. “It’s the best win but not the best performance,” he said.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder (Photo: Sportimage)

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“I thought we were decidedly average. We were off the pace.

“We have deserved our wins but the games are going to get bigger and we need to handle it better.”

The comments attracted derision, notably from one national newspaper reporter who described the interview as ‘peculiar’. But for those who have seen United far more frequently this season and last, it was understandable - Wilder’s men have been far better for large periods of the season and although the result was impressive, the manner it was achieved was a little less so.

James Bland, a Northampton supporter who works in hotels and hospitality, spotted Wilder’s intention instantly, after watching him lead the Cobblers to the League Two title, with 99 points, before he came home to Bramall Lane.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder (Photo: Sportimage)

“It’s classic Chris,” he said.

“Just reminding his players what he expects. He’s repeating a tried-and-tested formula, and builds a team, and club, spirit like no-one else.

“As a result, we won the league with 99 points and went 25 unbeaten. That team of his just flat out refused to be beaten.”

Followers of United, who didn’t lose after January and won seven games on the bounce last season to hit the 100-point mark, will recognise that. But 46-game promotion campaigns don’t come without their blips. See Wilder’s comments after a 3-0 victory for Northampton, in August 2015.

“We can’t gloss over a bang-average performance. I didn’t think it was impressive at all. I didn’t think we were very good.”

Just his way of tempering expectations and keeping feet on the ground. And with a man this used to winning - success following him from Alfreton to Oxford, to Sixfields and then United - who can argue with his methods?

Maybe defeat at QPR - which saw the hosts do to United exactly what they’ve done to many other Championship sides since promotion last season - will be a wake-up call for United, or a “reality check” as Wilder put it when he admitted: “I’m disappointed in the team; when we got into good positions, we didn’t make the right decisions or show enough quality.

“Yes, there were chances, but there werfe a lot of other things where we weren’t great. It ended in a deserved defeat. Maybe it was a bit of a reality check.”

Perhaps Hull City will bear the brunt of the reaction on Saturday when the two Yorkshire rivals lock horns at Bramall Lane. Whatever happens, now is the time to stay United in every sense of the word.

The players, for sure, won’t get carried away with anything just yet; Wilder will make sure of that. Besides, he’s too old for mind-games.