Sheffield United: Chris Wilder reveals what was said when his squad met to discuss the promotion run-in
Earlier this week, before their preparations for Preston North End began in earnest, Chris Wilder summoned his players to a meeting at Sheffield United's training complex.
Three-line whip gatherings are not a regular occurrence. Nor, the manager explained as he detailed its purpose, was Monday's get-together a highly-charged affair.
But, after suffering a set-back in their push for Premier League football, Wilder had an important message to relay.
"We've re-set ourselves," the 51-year-old said. "We've had a chat, sat the lads down and discussed all the really positive things they've done up to now. "It's not every week we do it and it's not crisis talks either. If anyone paints it like that then they're wrong.
"I just thought it was important to talk to them about what we're about, how we've put ourselves in the mix and what we've got to do to try and get across that line."
Wilder was in upbeat mood as he discussed United's response to their defeat by Bristol City seven days ago. Sharing jokes with journalists and wearing a broad, beaming smile, the 51-year-old seemed at peace with himself, his squad and its position in the table ahead of tomorrow's visit to Lancashire.
Indeed, although losing to Lee Johnson's side meant United travelled to Lancashire ranked third - two points behind second-placed Leeds with seven games remaining - Wilder used his latest round of pre-match interviews to remind the audience about their impressive powers of recovery. Not since August have United been beaten in back to back outings.
"They've got opinions and I trust they've got the right ones," Wilder said. "It's not a time to go individual. It's not a time to take a backwards step. It's time to drive it forward. Are we content with the position we're in? Yes. Do we want more? Absolutely."
"There's no getting away from the fact we are in the mix to get out of the division," he continued. "There's no point in me saying to the players it doesn't mean anything. Of course it does. I keep going back to the golf; would you rather be going down the back nine on a Sunday in contention or miss the cut? They're in a good place and they're balanced."
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United and Preston, where Alex Neil's charges are in play-off contention, boast plenty in common. Neither enjoy access to unlimited funds or particularly lavish resources. But, as their results in the Championship prove, both have shown that smart coaching and a intelligent scouting can trump a cheque book. Wilder's respect for Neil and his chairman Peter Ridsdale was evident this morning.
"Definitely, we pride ourselves on recruitment, developing and improving," he said. "That and the team, the togetherness of the group.
"I just take care of the business at Sheffield United and Alex does that at Preston. I know Alex works hard, backed by a really good chairman in Peter Ridsdale, a proper football man. You can't be lazy, Monday to Friday, away from the bright lights. You always see them at games."
Preston won the corresponding fixture last season 1-0 when, less than 12 months after lifting themselves out of League One, a combination of injury and illness exposed the lack of experienced options within United's ranks.
"I looked at the back of their programme and thought that's where we needed to be," Wilder, who has signed the likes of Oliver Norwood, John Egan and David McGoldrick since, admitted. "Roll on to now, with what we've done, it puts us in a better and stronger position. Then, we were down to the bare bones and it showed.
"There was an increase in the budget and a couple of boys went out of the building, including one big one (David Brooks).
"We've done good bits of business. it's not deep pockets and cheques flying about all over the place. We've walked away from deals as well because we felt it was the right thing to do."
Preston were propping up the rest of the division after losing at Bramall Lane earlier this term but now find themselves in 10th, only three points behind the top six. "I don't usually but, in this instance, I will comment on another club and that's Preston," Wilder said. "They had a brilliant season last year, they came roaring past us and took it to the 46th game. They had a slow start but with what Alex has done, I wasn't surprised and I'm not surprised to see them doing well now."