How Sheffield United will attempt to lift themselves - and their manager - after yet another morale-sapping defeat
Sheffield United’s players are beginning to wilt under the strain of a Premier League season which has proven a test of their physical and psychological strength, manager Chris Wilder has admitted, after acknowledging he faces a battle to lift them ahead of Sunday’s visit to Leicester City.
With their wafer thin hopes of avoiding relegation almost certainly disappearing following a 2-0 defeat by Southampton United’s injury hit squad finished the meeting with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side 12 points adrift of safety having played two matches less than 17th placed Newcastle.
Speaking after a game settled by goals from James Ward-Prowse and former United centre-forward Che Adams, Wilder admitted the performance of his players betrayed signs of “mental and physical” fatigue.
With salvaging some pride from a campaign which has exposed the lack of depth and experience at his disposal now United’s only realistic target, the 53-year-old told The Star: “The only way we can lift them is through my attitude and my enthusiasm, which people around me will understand. We are ultra positive people.
“Then, going from there, they’ve just got to lift themselves and get themselves through it. We will be back in on Monday, and we’ll try and have a positive training session. But as a player, and this is the way it’s always been, you’ve basically got to get yourself going rather than relying on someone else to do it.”
Wilder described last month how social distancing restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic means he is unable to employ many of the methods he would usually utilise to raise spirits behind the scenes.
With United languishing at the bottom of the table and relations between the boot room and boardroom becoming strained in recent weeks, Wilder’s demeanour during the post-match media briefing suggested the situation is also beginning to take its toll on him personally. Usually upbeat and combative, Wilder’s mood was noticeably morose as he fielded questions from journalists. That prompted the question: Who raises him?
“I have to lift myself,” he said. “That’s how I’ve been brought up and that’s how I work.
“I’ve got some beautiful people around me, my family and my friends. They lift me, and also bring a bit of perspective which isn’t a bad thing in life.
“But, given all of that, I basically have to lift myself so I can lift the players.”
Despite Jayden Bogle’s return from injury, 24 hours after Wilder had claimed he would not be available for selection until the trip to the east Midlands at the earliest, United’s fitness issues mean Wilder does not have the luxury of being able to make wholesale changes in order to try and inspire a change of fortune. John Egan, Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham and Sander Berge were among those to miss the loss to Southampton, while Jack Robinson and Jack Rodwell are also undergoing treatment.
“Basically, we just have to go through the whole process again in the week,” Wilder said. “There really is no other way.
“They (Southampton) had a few players back from injury and I think that showed. It was a difficult one for us because of that. I’m not spinning anything, we are in a tough situation.”