'I'm still proud of you, no matter what the critics say' - Sheffield United manager's message to his under-fire players
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has told he players he is proud of the character they have shown during what has been a troubled season at Bramall Lane but warned that does not mean they can expect any favours from either him or his coaching staff between now and the end of the campaign.
Admitting he will continue to push them “as hard as they have ever been driven” despite appearing destined for relegation, Wilder described himself as being in awe of the mental resilience being demonstrated by a squad which “continues to give everything” in such testing circumstances.
United travel to fellow strugglers Fulham on Saturday 14 points adrift of safety and at the bottom of the Premier League table, with even their most optimistic of supporters acknowledging that a return to the Championship probably beckons.
But Wilder said: “It’s incredible this team, with the amount of setbacks it’s had, how they keep getting off the canvas. The amount of injuries and changes we’ve had to implement, it’s amazing how they keep fighting and keep going. The togetherness of the group, and how they want to keep on trying to drive forward, that makes me immensely proud of them. But I will continue to drive them as hard as they have ever been driven, because that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Although he accepts United must go on an amazing run to stand any chance of survival, Wilder is refusing to admit defeat in the battle to retain top-flight status until it is mathematically impossible.
The 53-year-old inherited a side languishing in the third tier of English football when he was appointed in May 2016, delivering promotion at the first attempt before masterminding another two years later. Four veterans of United’s League One title winning squad could feature at Craven Cottage this weekend, with all but three of those who featured during Monday’s defeat at West Ham signed from EFL clubs.
Although United finished ninth in the table last term, challenging for Europe until the Covid-19 pandemic robbed them of momentum, Wilder said: “It was a team that was set out to survive last year and nothing changed this year. The mentality of the group, the careers they’ve had and where they have come from, they have to be mentally strong because they’ve never been conditioned to paying top level football over a long period.
“These boys are mentally strong though and they are still fighting for their lives. That. for me, tell you all you need to know about them.”
United are expected to provide an update on John Egan’s condition before departing for the capital after the centre-half was carried from the pitch on a stretcher towards the end of their meeting with David Moyes’ side. John Fleck missed the game due to illness, and Wilder will also use his latest pre-match media briefing to confirm whether or not the midfielder is now available for selection.
Sander Berge, Jack O’Connell and Jack Robinson are among those certain to miss the visit to Fulham, who are 18th in the rankings.
“It’s been difficult all the way through, with injuries,” Wilder said. “But we just get on with it as usual.”