Sheffield United: Chris Wilder reveals what is really motivating his squad as it hopes to take a giant step towards the Premier League
Chris Wilder has described rewarding Sheffield United's fans for their loyalty as his team's biggest motivation as they close in on a return to the Premier League.
United's enter Saturday's game against Ipswich Town ranked second in the Championship, three points ahead of third-placed Leeds, with two matches of the season remaining.
Given their vastly superior goal difference, it would take a remarkable chain of events elsewhere to deny Wilder's squad a place in the top-flight next season if they beat Paul Lambert's side.
With a sell-out crowd expected to watch the fixture at Bramall Lane, the 51-year-old, who inherited a squad languishing in the third tier of English football when he was appointed in 2016, said: "If any set of supporters deserve something to shout about then it's our supporters. They've had to put up with a lot.
"It would be great if we could achieve something and, even though I'd be delighted for the lads and myself, the biggest reward would be paying them back for sticking by their club."
United have not rubbed shoulders with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool since 2007, when they were relegated in controversial circumstances following the Carlos Tevez Affair. That episode, which ended with West Ham paying United nearly £20m in compensation after being adjudged to have fielded an ineligible player during the closing stages of the campaign, marked the start of their fall down through the divisions until Wilder led them to the League One title a decade later.
"We're one of the oldest clubs in the country, with a great historic ground with a modern feel, and so there's a lot to be proud about," he said. "But the fans have still suffered a fair bit in recent times.
"There was 'Tevez' and going down on the last day of the season. Still they came in their numbers and got stuck with their team. So they, the fans, are the big driving force. They are the motivation for us."
Although bottom of the table Ipswich were mathematically relegated earlier this month, Wilder, himself a lifelong United follower and former player, insisted the battle for a top two finish is not over yet. Leeds, who suffered back to back defeats over the Bank Holiday period, face Aston Villa on Sunday.
"You can talk about this and that, about what might or might not happen all you want, but ultimately it's just words," he said. "We have to turn Ipswich over. That's our only focus."
"This is an experienced group we've got," Wilder added. "Lads who have come up through with us. They understand the situation. They understand my thoughts."