How Chris Wilder's 100th win in charge of Sheffield United revealed how his squad will approach the challenge of achieving Premier League survival

Ten minutes or so before kick-off, as his players prepared to go into battle at Bristol Rovers, Chris Wilder made his way around the bar which was doubling as a makeshift away dressing room and whispered a few quiet words in the ear of every single one.

Sunday, 10th January 2021, 7:06 pm

He wanted to issue some reminders about what Sheffield United stands for. Tell them this is a club which never ever gives up.

Around two hours later, after watching his team reach the FA Cup fourth round following its first victory of the season, Wilder ordered everyone inside to gather around him before calling for silence.

“I just wanted to tell the lads, and make it clear this was important, that all the success they’ve had has been built on a certain identity. Yes, they’ve got talent. I don’t care what anyone says. But they’ve got to where they are, which is the pinnacle of English football, because they roll-up their sleeves and give everything. Oh, and that I was proud of them.”

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Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder reached his century of wins in charge of the club during Saturday's FA Cup tie at Bristol Rovers: Michael Steele/Getty Images

A SMALL BUT IMPORTANT STEP

In normal circumstances, advancing to the next phase of the tournament by beating third tier opposition would not usually be cause for such celebration. But as Wilder and those under his command knew only too well ahead of their visit to the Memorial Stadium, a hotchpotch collection of stands in the city’s northern suburbs, defeat was not an option after losing 15 and drawing two of their last 17 Premier League outings. Another defeat, quite simply, was not an option.

WILDER’S CENTURY

With Jayden Bogle’s second-half goal finally killing-off a spirited Rovers side and delivering Wilder’s 100th win as United manager in the process, the 53-year-old’s demeanor during the post-match interviews was in stark contrast to the sullen, downbeat monologues he has been forced to perform in recent weeks as his side slipped deeper into trouble at the foot of the table.

Sheffield United's Lys Mousset (second left) celebrates with his team-mates after Bristol Rovers goalkeeper Joe Day (not pictured) scores their side's first goal of the game with an own goal during the Emirates FA Cup third round match at Memorial Stadium: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

By choosing to describe this result not as a first step on the road towards Wembley but as an important boost for United’s confidence, Wilder betrayed the fact that achieving top-flight survival rather than collecting silverware remains his number one priority ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Newcastle.

It also revealed much about the character of his squad, and the manner in which they will approach the challenge of attempting to claw back the 12 point gap between themselves and 17th place, that despite seeing his position come under scrutiny beforehand, Wilder declined invitations to discuss his own career landmark afterwards.

“I’m not interested in the 100,” he insisted. “It’s never been about me. It’s always been about the football club. That’s what comes first. Every decision I make is for the benefit of this football club.”

A FITTING VENUE

Although he would doubtless have preferred it had come at Anfield, the Emirates or one of the other great sport citadels United have visited since returning to action in September, it was perhaps fitting that Wilder achieved his century here, inside one of the plain, drab grounds which litter the lower rungs of the English Football League pyramid.

Nearly four years ago, when United last met Rovers in an away fixture, Wilder was only nine months into a reign which has seen him mastermind two promotions and a ninth placed finish in the PL last season.

Remarkably, three of those who took part in that match, which ended in stalemate on another bitterly cold day in the south-west, also featured on the roster when Wilder unveiled his selections for a contest which turned out to be every bit as tough as he had predicted.

“These lads care about what happens, they’re not toilet bag footballers as I call them, who just turn up with their Louis Vutton wash bags every single day and don’t really give a monkey’s about anything other than themselves,” he said.

“I look into their eyes, people like Bash (Chris Basham) and (John) Egan, and I could see they were hurting incredibly with how things had been going.”

“I know they care,” Wilder continued. “Hopefully this can lift them a little bit. I’m not patronising anybody, because I’ve worked at this level before. But there’s a lot of very talented boys in the bottom two divisions.

"Rovers have got plenty, and I know they’ll have seen this as an opportunity to get after us.”

Rovers tried to do exactly that, twice coming from a goal down to level proceedings, before Bogle’s clinical finish capped an explosive period of the game.

As Wilder correctly stated, United were in control for the most part and could have scored more than the three goals they eventually claimed with Lys Mousset and Oliver Burke also on target.

But it was to the credit of Paul Tisdale’s men, who despite struggling to combat United’s greater physicality and pace, that they ensured the outcome remained in the balance until referee Keith Stroud brought proceedings to a halt.

THE RIGHT START

Mousset, selected despite finding himself at the centre of a high profile off the pitch incident earlier in the week, ensured United immediately imposed their authority on the game by turning home Ben Osborn’s centre during the early exchanges although the ball crossed the line after striking Rovers’ Joe Day.

Alfie Kilgour equalised when he headed home Zain Westbrooke’s set-piece before United, who saw another Mousset effort disallowed when Egan was wrongly adjudged to have fouled his marker, retook the lead through Burke; the substitute netting for the first time since arriving last summer following John Fleck’s assist.

Max Ehmer restored parity again after escaping the clutches of United’s defence but Bogle cut short Rovers’ celebrations by converting from close range, after Burke had struck a post and sliced an Osborn centre wide.

“I told the boys beforehand that this was a big game, individually and for the club,” Wilder said. “They went out there and did the business.”

Bristol Rovers: Day, Leahy, Ehmer, Upson (Rodman 80), Westbrook, Hanlan, McCormick, Kilgour, Ayunga (Barrett 63), Baldwin, Oztumer (Grant 63). Not used: Van Stappershoef, Little, Kelly, Hargreaves, Harries, Barrett, Koiki.

Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Basham, Egan, Ampadu, Bogle, Osborn, Norwood, Fleck (Lowe 86), Lundstram (Bryan 73), Mousset (Burke 53), McGoldrick. Not used: Verrips, Sharp, Loew, Jagielka, Brewster, Gordon.

Referee: Keith Stroud.

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