SHEFFIELD UNITED: Confident but never cocksure

In-form striker: United ace Nick Blackman
In-form striker: United ace Nick Blackman
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DANNY Wilson would wince at the suggestion. And probably be quite right to do so.

But despite spending the opening six games of the new League One season championing the likes of Bournemouth, Colchester and Shrewsbury Town, the Sheffield United manager can not escape the fact that tonight’s match against Doncaster Rovers will be viewed as the first serious test of his team’s promotion credentials.

Not that Wilson was about to fall into the trap of acknowledging the existence of a divisional hierarchy when he addressed the media yesterday.

“We might not have always played fashionable teams. But we have always played determined teams,” Wilson insisted. “Some people are perhaps a little disrespectful towards our opponents. But they’ve got something to aspire to if people talk them down.

“That’s not something we’ll ever do. Disrespect anybody.

“Whether we are expected to beat teams is a different matter. Arguably we are expected to win every game.

“That’s fine but the one thing we’ll never do is go in there with arrogance.”

All points, as Bryan Robson once famously insisted, are equal. But, as Wilson’s predecessor later discovered to his cost, some are viewed as more equal than others.

A draw against Rovers, who make the short journey south hoping to leapfrog seventh placed United in the rankings, would probably not provoke the same degree of soul searching which followed last weekend’s stalemate with Bury.

Wilson, speaking after Peter Sweeney’s free-kick had cancelled-out Nick Blackman’s opener for the hosts, admitted “some people will look to put a downer” on Saturday’s result.

However, although there were extenuating circumstances, neither should the fractious nature of United’s performance be ignored. Some notable exceptions apart, Wilson’s charges lacked the vibrancy and rhythm which have been their hallmarks so far this term.

With Ryan Flynn and Michael Doyle still suspended, United’s coaching staff must decide whether to persist with the midfield quartet which failed to spark against Bury or risk causing further disruption by orchestrating yet another reshuffle.

Having signed Paul Gallagher on loan, Wilson has a more than adequate replacement for the young Scot but Doyle’s absence provided a stark reminder how important his combative qualities are to a team intent on passing rather than pummelling its way out of the division.

“I always think it’s nice when you can assess a team without one of it’s so called headliners,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to deny we lost a bit of balance without Michael.

“That’s not a criticism of the lads who came in but he’s a very experienced player. He’s our cement if you like and he’s got a great partnership with Kevin McDonald.”

‘Partnerships’ was one of Wilson’s buzzwords during his pre-derby briefing at Shirecliffe. Something which explains why the former Northern Ireland international combines an expansive approach with generally conservative selections.

“Hopefully we can get some consistency into our team,” Wilson said. “We saw last season how, when it was achieved, the results followed because estabishing partnerships in all positions is important.”

Teams and ref

BLADES (possible): Howard, McMahon, Collins, Maguire, Hill, Westlake, McDonald, McAllister, Gallagher, Cofie, Blackman.

ROVERS (possible): G Woods, Quinn, Jones, McCombe, Spurr, Keegan/Paynter, Cotterill, M Woods, Syers, Bennett, Brown.

Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire): Will be taking charge of only his fourth match this term. Has not issued a red card since April 2011 but did show six yellows during his last outing - Fleetwood’s 4-0 win at Morecambe - earlier this month.