Buried beneath the plaudits, behind the kind words he uttered about Wolverhampton Wanderers through tightly gritted teeth, lurked an admission that, despite refusing to curb their attacking instincts, Chris Wilder is now instructing his players to adopt a more nuanced approach.
The change, which was rendered irrelevant during last weekend’s defeat at Molineux by Simon Moore’s sending-off, could become more apparent when Leeds visit Bramall Lane tomorrow lunchtime. Because as Wilder revealed, either inadvertently or otherwise, it relates to game-management.
“It was stick or twist,” he said, analysing Sheffield United’s thought process in the Black Country after conceding twice before half-time. “Do we try and chase the game and leave ourselves wide open or do we try and stay in the game and then give it a real go in the last 20 minutes? That’s what we did but obviously the sending-off killed it. It was important, psychologically, that we stuck in the game which we did.”
United were eventually beaten 3-0 by the Championship leaders who, Wilder later admitted, are simply “too good” for the division. The same, the table suggests, can not be said of their latest opponents who after slipping to 10th unveiled Paul Heckingbottom as their new manager on Tuesday. Nevertheless, having drawn a thick black line under the result against Wolves in an attempt to preserve his squad’s morale, Wilder also acknowledges United are also in need of points to keep pace with the top six. The decision not to immediately overload their attack against Nuno Espírito Santo’s side - a trait at the beginning of the campaign - illustrates how tactics have evolved at Bramall Lane since last season’s League One title triumph. But Wilder, whose team are eighth, is convinced their new found pragmatism will not adversely affect United’s attacking panache. Indeed, as Heckingbottom settles into his new job, Wilder is likely to instruct them to go for the jugular and harness the power of a near sell-out crowd.
“The fans will be up for it,” he said. “Just like us.”
That, combined with the desire to keep Leeds guessing after losing to United in September, could see Ricky Holmes again preferred to Mark Duffy in ‘the hole.’ The 30-year-old, signed from Charlton Athletic last month, impressed his manager after being named in the starting eleven at Wolves. David Brooks represents an another potential option after recovering from glandular fever but is likely to be eased back into action via the under-23’s.
“We feel Ricky will be a good player for us,” Wilder said. “It was a tough debut for him but he’s got plenty of spirit and plenty of confidence in his own ability. We were delighted with his debut and what he showed. We know what he can do but we’ve got some really good options in there now.”