Sheffield United: Chris Wilder pays tribute to Bramall Lane's unsung heroes ahead of Reading test

At various stages of the season, usually when his most high-profile players are dominating the news agenda, Chris Wilder has shed a light on the contribution other members of Sheffield United's squad are making to the club's latest promotion push.

Thursday, 14th February 2019, 5:39 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th February 2019, 5:47 pm
Chris Wilder celebrates with his players: James Wilson/Sportimage

It was a trick he reprised again ahead of this weekend's game against Reading, outlining how Richard Stearman, the unlikely hero of Wednesday's victory over Middlesbrough, is proving a tower of strength behind the scenes as his team mates attempt to negotiate their way through the remaining 14 games of the season.

"People like Richard are playing big roles," he said. "One hundred per cent, they've been hugely important to what we're doing and are still trying to. I've been unbelievably impressed with their attitudes, with how they've pushed others on. But, being honest, I've not been surprised either."

Although Wilder's ploy is designed to keep people engaged - particularly given his refusal to employ a rotation policy - it also reflects the demands, both psychological and physical, associated with life at the top end of the Championship. Summoned from the bench when George Baldock hobbled off with a calf problem, Stearman marked only his 13th appearance of the campaign by heading home the winning goal against the visitors from Teesside.

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"It shows how professional these lads are, that they're ready to step-up," Wilder said afterwards. "We've told the whole group, now more than ever, people have got to be ready to come in at any given time."

As midweek games are shoehorned back into the fixture schedule - Wilder's men face José Manuel Gomes' side less than 72 hours after facing Middlesbrough - United's coaching staff are aware injuries, suspensions or both could yet influence the outcome of this season's race for Premier League football.

With forthcoming opponents West Bromwich Albion and Leeds also harbouring ambitions of competiting at top-flight next term, Wilder has suggested United could be forced to make changes when they might otherwise have stuck with the same starting eleven.

"Listen, I get Bill wants to play every week," he said, referring to captain Billy Sharp. "I get that Duff (Mark Duffy) wants to play every week. But it's not an individual sport. 

"We have to be right, tactically, going into these games and we are trying to cram 15 games into eight, 10 eleven weeks."

"The way we play, at our best, is when we play with energy and enthusiasm," Wilder added. "To do that, we need fit and fresh players. But we have to be bold and make sure we're not safe with our selections. We can't think we're just going to turn up and steamroller people."

Predictably, Wilder was coy on whether or not he might be persuaded to introduce the likes of Stearman, Gary Madine, Kieran Dowell or Scott Hogan against Reading, with the latter available for selection after being forced to miss last week's draw with parent club Aston Villa under the terms of his loan.

"It's easy to just say stick with it," he said. "We'll have to see if we do, won't we. What I will say is that we'll always pick the team that we believes gives us the best chance of winning the game."