Sheffield United: Performances, not sentiment, will decide who stays at Bramall Lane
Last week, when Billy Sharp and Enda Stevens put pen to paper on their new contracts, it marked the latest phase of Chris Wilder's campaign to ensure his squad continues to progress both this season and beyond.
Having tied them to Bramall Lane, for the next two and three years respectively, Sheffield United have not only bought themselves an extra degree of stability but, with the race for promotion still delicately poised, ensured both can concentrate purely on football rather than securing their futures at the club.
It spoke volumes, with their previous agreements still having over 12 months left to run, that Wilder petitioned so vigorously for United to offer them fresh terms; citing Sharp's performances in front of goal since August and Stevens' emergence as a regular member of the Republic of Ireland squad.
Nevertheless, despite outlining the importance of rewarding players for prolonged periods of good work, the United manager has warned sentiment will not cloud his judgement when it comes to awarding deals to other members of his team.
"People who aren't committed, who don't have that desire, they will fall by the wayside," Wilder said. "We want to keep moving forward and, to do that, everyone has got to be of exactly the same mind.
"We've got a good group, good lads with good attitudes. But we can't just dish these things out because we like somebody. They've got to be earned. You've got to keep putting that shift in."
Wilder's comments suggest the likes of Paul Coutts, Conor Washington and Marton Cranie, whose existing contracts are scheduled to expire this summer, must continue to convince United's coaching staff they are worthy of extended deals despite being praised for their contributions behind the scenes in recent weeks.
That means their displays during Professional Development League fixtures, unless they force themselves regularly into Wilder's first choice Championship eleven, will also be assessed before the 51-year-old and his assistant Alan Knill reach a decision on whether to retain their services. It explains why Wilder, although the game took place during the build-up to Saturday's visit to West Bromwich Albion, attended the under-23's derby at Bramall Lane last week.
United's younger players, including George Broadbent and Harry Boyes, impressed but Sheffield Wednesday prevailed 2-0 because their more experienced names delivered more than United's.
Outlining why Sharp and Stevens were invited to the negotiating table, Wilder said: "Enda leads by example, the calmness of his approach. Billy has more responsibility and his leadership skills are excellent.
"Billy realises he can't stand still. he was a good player three years ago. He is a better player now.
"That carrot, to go out and earn the next contract, has to be dangled. And that's what Billy and Enda will want to do because they're not the type who are happy to coast along. That's what we want."