Sheffield United: A Bramall Lane great gives Chris Wilder the benefit of his wisdom ahead of crucial clash with Leeds United
Earlier this week, as the dust began to settle on Sheffield United's victory over Brentford and preparations for Leeds began in earnest, Chris Wilder made one of his regular telephone calls to friend, predecessor and mentor Dave Bassett.
Nothing in particular had instigated their conversation. The two men chat on a regular basis. But as they chewed the fat and discussed all manner of different subjects, one in particular kept cropping up.
Twenty-nine years ago, with only a handful of games remaining in the Division Two season, United travelled-up the motorway for a game at Elland Road. Basset was still charge, Wilder was on the bus and with both teams level on points at the top of the table, the pre-match narrative was every bit as hysterical as the one surrounding today's meeting between the Championship's second and third placed sides. Unfortunately for United, the fixture did not live up to its billing and they were beaten 4-0. However less than one month later, Bassett's squad were celebrating promotion following a now legendary win at Leicester City.
It was a chain of events Wilder, then an aspiring young defender, used to dispel that notion that anything will be settled when the two clubs renew their rivalry later this afternoon.
"I had a natter with Harry a couple of days back," he said. "We talked about that one and even though I didn't play, I was there. It just goes to show you can get carried away. There's still lots of football to be played and nothing, absolutely nothing, is decided yet."
Leeds also reached the top-flight that season, lifting the title after finishing above United on goal difference. Wilder, speaking at the Steelphalt Academy on Thursday morning, acknowledged both sets of supporters would "probably take the same outcome" again at the end of this term.
But he stressed, after Pontus Jansson implied three points will leave Marcelo Bielsa's squad within touching distance of the Premier League, that his players are approaching the derby with the same focus as their opponents.
"Yes, it's a big game," Wilder continued. "But it only takes a week of football to turn it around. If we win, we go a point above them. If they beat us, they go five clear.
“That's two games though, a week of football, that's all.
"Whatever happens, and we know what we'll be giving everything to try and make happen, I'm sure there's one, possibly two or three others even, who will have a say about that."
Despite Wilder's best efforts to put the contest into context, there is no denying its significance. United are unbeaten in nine and searching for a seventh successive clean sheet after dispatching Brentford three days ago. Leeds, two points behind leaders Norwich City with nine matches left to play, have lost only once at home since the turn of the year and will enjoy the backing over 30,000 fans.
"The time won't make a difference," Wilder, referring to the scheduling, said. "They'll ramp it up. We've got players who can handle the occasion. We've got staff who have been in it too.
"You can talk about the atmosphere but it doesn't change what happens on the pitch, so long as you play the game not the occasion."
Pablo Hernandez scored the only goal of the game when the two teams met in December, taking advantage of a defensive mix-up involving Dean Henderson. Wilder knows that error, combined with the fact he is on loan from Manchester United, is likely to see the 22-year-old targeted by the home support.
But with Gareth Southgate recently confirming that Henderson is in contention for a senior England call-up after impressing for United and the under-21's, Wilder dismissed fears his goalkeeper will feel the pressure.
"Dean will get tested on Saturday, as he did at Hillsborough when we played Sheffield Wednesday," Wilder said. "He knows that. He also knows his way around the game. You've seen his reaction in terms of performances and results."