Sheffield United: Chris Wilder says The Blades and Millwall have plenty in common, including preferring football over fizz
If there was ever a reminder that the final three weeks of the season will be impossible to predict it was the sight of Norwich City, supposedly steamrolling towards the title on the back of eight straight wins, being held to a draw by a Reading side fighting for survival at the opposite end of the division.
With second place changing hands for a fifth consecutive round of games on Wednesday evening when, 24 hours after Leeds had beaten Preston North End Sheffield United drew at Birmingham City, these are strange times indeed.
Little wonder then, as he looked towards tomorrow's game against Millwall, Chris Wilder resisted the temptation to offer any forecasts about how either it or the race for automatic promotion will eventually unfold.
"Everything has swapped around again and obviously we want it to go back after this one," he said, referring to the state of play in the Championship. "But, for that to happen, we've got to make sure we take care of our own business first."
United, a point behind Leeds with five matches remaining following their result in the Midlands, will attempt to inject some monotony into the competition when Neil Harris' side visit South Yorkshire. Beaten only once in 13 outings, Wilder's side last tasted defeat on home soil in the league four months ago.
Millwall, as their position in the table suggests, have not proven anywhere near as resilient. In 19th, albeit with a game in hand over their fellow strugglers, they made the journey north hoping to avoid a 14th defeat on the road since August.
Twelve months ago, however, Millwall were threatening to gatecrash the play-offs after climbing out of League One alongside United and Bolton Wanderers.
"Neil got them up and the year he did, the two most powerful clubs in the division got the top two," Wilder said. "If you look at Bolton's squad, okay there was a lot going off, but they had the players to win games of football which they did.
"We got a lot of plaudits last season for the way we played but, if you look at it, what Millwall did and what Preston did outstripped what we did.
"We could easily have had the season that Millwall are having. It might be disappointing but it's not a disaster season with them, no way at all. If they stay up, they'll be delighted."
A closer analysis of Millwall's results reveal why, despite the odds apparently being stacked in United's favour, Wilder is expecting a tough assignment. Like his squad, Harris' players enjoy a strong bond with their supporters and excellent work ethic. Indeed, in personality terms, the two clubs share plenty in common.
"Defintely, for a long time really that's been the case," Wilder said. "We're both working class football clubs with the right ethic and commitment. But through the years, listen, they've had some players. Just like we have here."
"There's a snobbery in football," he continued. "Without being too deep on it, there's a class opinion on what football clubs are and the hierarchy and the elite. Last year, we got a hell of a lot of plaudits for how we played. But what they did and what Preston did topped what we did really.
"If you dip your toe in at Millwall, you'll get found out with the supporters. They're the same as here. The fans come to watch football, they're not bothered about the corporate stuff, the hospitality or getting a glass of fizz."
Ryan Leonard and Lee Gregory, another former United player, are among Millwall's dangermen. Experienced centre-forward Steve Morison, although he has been used sparingly so far this term, also poses a threat. But United, who edged a dramatic encounter at The Den in September, have even more talismans. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp, who were both on target in south-east London, could spearhead their attack while Oliver Norwood, John Fleck and Mark Duffy are also expected to feature. Another key figure, defender Jack O'Connell, was yesterday being assessed after missing United's last two fixtures due to injury.
"I think, the timing of Jack, he's had a good 10, 11 or 12 days now, so we're really confident that he's going to be okay," Wilder said. "I've just got to make the right decision on him really and do it right away."