Sheffield United: How the build-up to the Steel City derby against Sheffield Wednesday has proved the wisdom of The Blades’ approach
Although he would rather his point had been proved in a different way, the number of selection dilemmas Sheffield United face ahead of next week's visit to Sheffield Wednesday reveal why Chris Wilder emphasised the importance of building a squad rather than simply a starting eleven at the beginning of the season.
Having spent the majority of the campaign in blissful ignorance about goings-on inside the Steelphalt Academy's physiotherapy room, the United manager is now in almost hourly contact with the Championship club's medical staff following a spate of niggling injuries.
The fact United began preparing for the trip to Hillsborough ranked second in the table despite losing players of Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham's calibre in recent weeks, is testimony to both the quality of the coaching staff's training sessions and their charges' ability to soak-up information about systems and strategy. But recent results, including wins over Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion, can also be attributed to the depth of quality options United now enjoy on their bench.
For the most of the season, Wilder has enjoyed the luxury of deciding his starting elevens solely on form and tactics.
But with a number of the 51-year-old's squad now nursing minor complaints - John Egan being among them - the investment it required to keep the likes of Richard Stearman and Martin Cranie at Bramall Lane, even though they have made a combined total of only 22 appearances so far this term, looks particularly shrewd.
Cranie, a key figure in the side which triumphed 1-0 at The Hawthorns two days ago, is now undergoing treatment for a tight calf muscle after being withdrawn during the closing stages of that game.
Twelve months ago, losing one of his over-lapping centre-halves would have forced Wilder to change formation. One year on, he was able to avoid a potentially catastrophic reshuffle by introducing Basham, who was available again following suspension.
"(Kieron) Freeman has also had another game and he was out on his legs and it is tough," Wilder said. "You go from not playing to having to play games and the speed and intensity of Championship football is incredible.
"It is relentless and just keeps coming at you. For these boys to stick at it like they have done - Marvin Johnson, Stearman coming off the bench and Cranie - that was great for us and them."
Despite playing down the seriousness of Cranie's condition, United's made similar claims about George Baldock when he limped-out of the meeting with Tony Pulis' side. The wing-back, whose absence has handed Freeman a route back into the team, subsequently missed the 4-0 thumping of Reading and United's success in the Midlands.