Sheffield United: ‘He who dares and keeps their nerve, wins’
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has warned this season's battle for Premier League football is about to become a test of nerve rather than talent.
With seven matches left to play, only two points separate United from their arch-rivals Leeds who occupy the Championship's second automatic promotion berth.
Wilder, whose side relinquished its grip on the runners-up berth following last weekend's defeat by Bristol City, admitted that result was disappointing.
But, speaking ahead of Saturday's visit to Preston North End, he dismissed claims it was a decisive moment in the race for the top-flight.
"I don't think anyone will win all of their games," Wilder said. "I think it will be to form. Nothing will change from our perspective because it's still all to play for.
"History tells you that there's going to be lots of twists and turns yet. So it's all about staying focused and, if you have a set-back, making sure you get right back on it by getting back to winning ways."
Although Wilder is right to suggest the odds are stacked against Marcelo Bielsa's squad winning all of its remaining games, losing to City means United travel to Deepdale with little margin for error. However, previously unbeaten in the league since January, Wilder believes a team renowned for its durability can wrestle back the momentum. United have not suffered back to back defeats for eight months.
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"If these lads have shown one thing, it's that spirit to bounce back," Wilder reminded. "That tells you something about them and their desire and attitude.
"They've done it before and they can do it again. They're an honest bunch who always give everything they've got whenever they're out there on the pitch."
Nearly six thousand United supporters are set to make the journey to Lancashire, where United will encounter opponents chasing play-off qualification.
"That relationship with the fans, the connection between them and the team, it's been vital," Wilder continued. "You can't put a price on it. Seriously, they (the fans) should never under-estimate the effect they can have on the boys.
"I think that connection is there because they can see players who put it all in for the shirt. And that's the only thing I ask of them, that they get right behind people who are putting it all in and giving everything."
Although United expect defender Jack O'Connell to declare himself available for selection after recovering from a calf injury, midfielder Mark Duffy is still undergoing treatment for an Achilles complaint.
"We've got a squad for a reason," Wilder said. "I always maintained we'd be lucky to go all the way through without having some issues to contend with but there's players, talented players, waiting for a chance and who are ready to step in."