Alan Biggs’ Sheffield United Column: Chris Wilder's front-foot approach is unnerving opponents far more than anyone at Bramall Lane.
It sounded like a throwaway remark and everyone around laughed. As the recipient in Sheffield United’s media suite, so did I.
Chris Wilder, responding to my question about having three strikers on the field against Middlesbrough last week, grinned: “Don’t worry, I’ll get a few more strikers on before the season’s finished!”
Two days on, he did. Well, one more in his battery.
So, definitely not a touch of bravado in the glow of an important victory. After all, Wilder often allows himself a chuckle at his own extreme interpretation of what he calls a “risk and reward approach.”
“You know me too well,” has been among previous responses to having it pointed out, for instance, that he has brought off a midfielder for a forward in winning positions.
Last Saturday came boldness in a different form; leaving 34 goals on the bench in the shape of Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick. Two-goal Madine teamed up with fellow January loan recruit Scott Hogan to give the team a different dynamic and spearhead the 4-0 romp over Reading.
I think Wilder picked his opposition well for that one. But it’s another option that works and it meant two much-wanted additions getting integrated for the run-in.
As United’s opponents are coming unfailingly to realise, Wilder is deadly serious about his commitment to attack. It is what has put them in this position and not coincidental either that they have a better goal difference than top two rivals Leeds and Norwich.
If anything, we can expect an even greater boldness in the remainder of the season - just as the nerves traditionally twitch and the temptation to keep things tight becomes greatest. And that includes Saturday’s big game at rivals West Brom.
On fielding three - or more?! - strikers for periods of games, as in the whole second half against Boro, Wilder said: “If we can, we will. We’re a positive team. We’re not sitting back and holding on.”
Perhaps the greatest irony of the criticism that followed the spectacular loss of a three-goal lead in the recent 3-3 draw at Villa Park was that if United had really gone negative - which they didn’t - they’d have probably seen it out. Individual errors, no more and no less, accounted for what happened.
When Wilder says “if I can” in reference to flooding the field with forwards, well ... he can.
Besides Sharp, McGoldrick and the increasingly influential Madine, there is Hogan, of course. And Conor Washington by way of variation, a player who may have been struggling for much of a look in but boasts 13 goals at this level for QPR.
Wilder’s policy is clearly to harness all his firepower and trust the rest of his tight-knit team to keep the need for defending to a minimum by staying on the front foot.
One thing’s for sure. It is unnerving opponents far more than anyone in or around Bramall Lane.