Sheffield United: Chris Wilder’s impassioned plea to players and fans as his team prepares to face “dangerous” Reading

He did not say so explicitly but all the clues were there.

Friday, 15th February 2019, 15:37 pm
Updated Friday, 15th February 2019, 15:42 pm
Jack O'Connell hopes to return from injury to face Reading: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Chris Wilder suspects tomorrow's game against Reading will be a war of attrition. Patience, together with passion and pugnacity, are going to be virtues.

"I keep saying, what an effect the support can have on a team," Wilder, Sheffield United's manager, reminded ahead of the Championship fixture. "We've seen that on countless times this season and we saw it the other night because, when they got right behind us, we were a lot more positive and put our opponents right on the back foot."

United enter their meeting with the visitors from Berkshire ranked third; only two points behind second-placed Norwich City and another one off leaders Leeds. José Manuel Gomes' side are 21st, just above the relegation zone but unbeaten in four outings. It is precisely that combination, of improving form married with the desire for survival, which has put Wilder on guard.

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"Reading are very technical," he admitted. "They're a very solid football club and they've kept a lot of the players together who, not so long ago, came within a penalty kick of winning the play-off final and getting back to the Premier League. So I don't care what the table suggests, they are going to be very dangerous if we're not at our best. Plus, there's been an obvious lift in performances under the new manager."

Gomes, previously Manuel Jesualdo Ferreira's assistant at Malaga, Porto and Panathinaikos, was appointed following United's victory at the Madejski Stadium in December. The fixture pitted brothers Sam and George Baldock against one another but injury means neither will feature in the return.

George, the United defender, limped-out of Wednesday night's win over Middlesbrough after damaging a calf muscle but Jack O'Connell could return after making progress in his battle to overcome the hamstring complaint which forced him to miss that contest. He had started all of United's previous 106 league fixtures.

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager: James Wilson/Sportimage

"He's going to miss out so that's a disappointment," Wilder, referring to Baldock, said. "But we're hoping it's not going to be too long term. It's a shame for us and George because ever since he's come back in, he's been excellent. He's put in some really positive performances."

"We'll give Jack as much time as possible," he added. "He was really disappointed to miss out. He's obviously had bangs and knocks during his run but he gets himself out there. He's old school if you like, in that regard."

Although Reading are likely to pose a very different kind of test to Tony Pulis' team, Wilder wants United to adopt the same approach which proved so successful during the second-half of their previous outing.

"I've said all along, we have to use our support," he said. "When it's hostile, like it was against Derby County second-half and Middlesbrough second-half, this is not a nice place for the opposition to be.

George Baldock will miss out through injury: James Wilson/Sportimage

"We don't want to take a backward step. We've got a chance to round it off, what could be a very good week. We don't want three points to slip us buy because we're not on the front foot and because we aren't positive in our approach."

"This club has not won enough home games in the past," Wilder continued. "It's been too easy, too comfortable for teams coming here in the past. We don't want people getting on the coach thinking 'well, that was nice.' We need to be together as a football club and stick with it as one."

Wilder made improving results at Bramall Lane one of his top priorities after taking charge three years ago and, after ending United's long stint in League One at the first time of asking, they now boast the best home record in the division. By the same measure last term, their first back in the second tier since 2011, Wilder's squad finished eighth.

"To be honest, I'm still scratching my head how that record isn't better," he conceded. "How did we not take more points against Stoke City and Sheffield Wednesday?"

Like United, Reading also won in midweek as goals from Nelson Oliveira and John Swift saw them beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1.

"They are fighting for their lives," Wilder acknowledged."They want to stay in the Championship. We know better than anyone, if you do drop out then it's difficult to get back. They've got a fight on and that fight, yes it's different, but it's just as strong as ours."