Sheffield United: Is tomorrow’s visit to West Brom a crunch clash? Chris Wilder addresses the question as he reveals his plans for Oliver Norwood
Despite acknowledging it boasts all the hallmarks, Chris Wilder insists it is still far to early to describe tomorrow's visit to West Bromwich Albion as a pivotal game.
This weekend's match at The Hawthorns, which pits second versus fourth in the Championship table, takes place on an important weekend in the competition's calendar with leaders Norwich facing fellow promotion contenders Bristol City.
Wilder, whose side are a point and two places above their latest opponents, admitted United's visit to the West Midlands was "big" when he addressed the media on Thursday morning.
But asked if beating West Brom could have psychological implications for his squad, the 51-year-old said: "You only can look back at the end of the season, that's when you see the pivotal moments.
"Listen, if we lose the next five, a win somewhere else isn't pivotal. It's only at the end you can reflect."
Despite his reluctance to amplify the fixture's significance, at least one of Wilder's decisions beforehand has the potential to influence how the rest of the campaign unfolds. Oliver Norwood, the Northern Ireland midfielder, collected his ninth caution of the season against Reading last weekend and will miss next month's derbies against Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham.
Wilder, who has suggested Norwood will start, must also decide whether or not to recall defenders Jack O'Connell and George Baldock after both resumed training following injury. Chris Basham is also set to feature after completing a suspension. Returning to his original point, Wilder said Sam Johnstone's presence between the posts for West Brom serves to remind how it is impossible to measure the importance of individual results until the end of the 46 match schedule.
"Last season, I look at Villa where we battered them," Wilder said. "Sam was there on loan, he made save after save after save, and then we got done right at the end.
"That and the games at Brentford and Cardiff. We should have won those. We got held and what could wins, at two really good clubs when we were right in the mix, have done to our morale?"