Sheffield United: Blades boss has a message for people who questioned his team
No matter how the rest of the season turns out, whether they go up automatically or are consigned to the play-offs, Chris Wilder insists his players have already delivered an important message to the rest of the Championship and beyond.
It relates to character. Or, as Sheffield United's manager put it before training today, "bottle." Which, despite finding themselves potentially one result away from reaching the Premier League, has been bizarrely questioned by some this season.
"We've recovered from some disappointments along the way," Wilder said, as he reflected upon the story of his team's season so far and highlighted three specific examples. "We got turned over 3-0 by Middlesbrough at the start of the season, smashed if I'm honest, and then not so long ago conceded a late, late equaliser to Milwall.
"But the one that really springs to mind was at Aston Villa a few months back, where we were three goals to the good with about 10 minutes remaining.
“They got it back level and I think a lot of people then were looking at us then and wondering if we could recover. Plenty probably thought we couldn't.
"But the boys came in and had a good positive week. If you look at what they've done since, I think that tells you something about them."
Although Wilder's motivations were partly mischievous - the 51-year-old is notoriously protective of his squad in the face of outside criticism - revisiting the nadirs of United's campaign also allowed him to explain why, with only two matches remaining, they enter Saturday's game against Ipswich Town three points above third-placed Leeds and boasting a vastly superior goal difference.
Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
After beating both Nottingham Forest and Hull City over the Bank Holiday weekend, United will have won all of their three games since being held by Millwall if they dispatch Paul Lambert's side. Set-backs in the Midlands and the North-East were also followed by long unbeaten runs which explains, according to Wilder at least, why top-flight football is now within touching distance.
"The boys needed a big weekend and they produced one," he said. "Now we need another. But I'm proud of the way they have recovered from set-backs. Because it's all about an accumulation of points across the entire season."
Leeds, who face Aston Villa on Sunday, have prepared for that match on the back of defeats to Wigan Athletic and Brentford. Only a fortnight ago, Marcelo Bielsa's men were being described as shoe-ins for one of the two automatic promotion spots alongside leaders Norwich.
"That shows how quickly things can change," Wilder reminded. "And that's why our only focus has got to be taking care of our own business. Things have already swung one way. They can swing the other in an instant."
Those words, unlike his ones about United's durability, were aimed squarely at Bramall Lane's home dressing room ahead of the visit of opponents whose relegation to League One was confirmed earlier this month.
"We're still talking about 'ifs' and nothing more than that," Wilder added. "I've maintained all along that we have to be at our absolute best to get anything in this division and the same goes now. Nothing has changed in that regard because they (Town) have got some damn good players and a damn good manager."