Alan Biggs’ Sheffield United Column: I’m convinced critics won’t find a chink in Blades’ armour – but if I had one wish for promotion run-in, this would be it
Bramall Lane’s media suite holds its collective breath on the rare occasions Sheffield United lose a game. And in last Saturday’s case, for more than an hour.
Chris Wilder has a bigger aversion to losing than most, even in his ultra-competitive profession. The long delay might have seemed ominous.
In this case (as in most, to be fair), Wilder echoed the consensus of those assembled. Simply that United had dipped and a good side in Bristol City had deservedly beaten them.
There was, as usual, no dressing up of either factor from the manager. But it was his manner, rather than what he said, that was important for what lies ahead.
Inside, surely bitter disappointed. He will have known his side under-performed - in every area. No doubt some truths along those lines were exchanged below stairs.
Outwardly, though, no histrionics. Actually, an easy confidence. A relaxed and philosophical demeanour from a man who can combust if he feels his team is selling itself short.
In fact, it did last Saturday. Loose play in possession, and defensively, was not in keeping with what had got the Blades into second place.
But, as they head for Preston on Saturday, Wilder is a manager of mood as well as players.
Providing they are giving their all, as they are, he knows this is not the time to give rise to doubts. Even more so after a drive to woo extra support had given the Lane a rare crowd in excess of 30,000.
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Wilder is rightly keen to protect all that rather than blow the house down. Besides, human beings are entitled to the odd off day. As this certainly was - after ten games unbeaten.
What I think Wilder will have been particularly keen to avoid is even the slightest suggestion, however unwarranted, that United choked in front of a bigger crowd.
Critics tend to look for that sort of weapon; rivals especially. Which would be nonsense anyway considering United won at Leeds in the previous game.
People everywhere are looking for chinks in armour. I’m still convinced they’ll struggle to find one in this squad during the remainder of the run-in.
As much as United’s five-goal thriller with Bristol City was on a knife-edge so was Leeds’ game with Millwall. The two matches just happened to go different ways on 3-2 scorelines.
The two point gap is reversible in the space of one afternoon or evening. That said, United weren’t at their most fluent in the Leeds game either.
If I had a wish it would be for Mark Duffy to be fit and firing - and selected - for all, or most, of the last seven games.
As Wilder indicated, Duffy would have been back last Saturday but for an Achilles injury. These can be slow to clear.
Speed of recovery could be vital in this case. United have always looked better balanced, and more creative, with Duffy in the feeder role.
The Blades need his mercurial magic to tip those fine margins back their way.
But it’s even truer to trot out, however blandly, that there is still a long way to go.