Sheffield United: Blades stars are placed on stand-by as squad prepares for final Premier League push
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has placed every member of his squad on stand-by as the club prepares for the final phase of its assault on the Premier League.
With only eight matches of the season remaining, United return to Championship action this weekend second in the Championship table, four points behind leaders Norwich City and one above third-placed Leeds following this month's victory at Elland Road.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's home game against Bristol City, Wilder, who has told supporters they can help his players fend-off Marcelo Bielsa's side and drag themselves across the finishing line, said: "It's been difficult for Marvin (Johnson), Couttsy (Paul Coutts) and others at times.
"But they understand that, like Simon Moore, Richard Stearman and Cranes (Martin Cranie), they've got to be ready.
"I keep banging on about it, if there is ever a time that everyone needs to be ready, it is now. They are ready and their attitude has been brilliant. Jonno, all of them, have got a huge part to play."
Cranie's rise to prominence in recent weeks, after making a slow start to his career in South Yorkshire, underlines the importance of Wilder's message. The former Huddersfield Town and Middlesbrough defender was used sporadically when he first arrived at Bramall Lane but has since helped United record crucial victories over fellow promotion contenders West Bromwich Albion and Leeds eight days ago.
With eight of his players selected for international duty with their respective countries, Wilder arranged for the remainder to visit a warm weather training camp in Spain last week where he insisted they "worked as hard as ever" to prepare for a series of games with the power to change both lives and United's direction for years to come.
"I keep banging on about how important the lads who aren't in the starting eleven are," he said. "I mean it. They are just as important as anyone else here.
"The team that starts is really the one that takes care of itself. It's the lads on the outside, as it were, that you need to look after. We had a settled side and then, suddenly, you've got to change it."
David McGoldrick and Enda Stevens both started the Republic of Ireland's 1-0 win over Gibraltar on Saturday.