Sheffield United: ‘Some players don’t give two whatsits about their clubs. Our players really care’
Over five hours had passed since Jake Cooper's 94th minute equaliser had cost them a win over Millwall but, as he watched his team mingle with supporters at a player of the year event last weekend, Chris Wilder could tell they were still troubled by both the result and its effect upon the race for automatic promotion from the Championship.
However, rather than being alarmed by what he was witnessing, Wilder admitted to be privately delighted instead. Because, he told the media ahead of Friday's game against Nottingham Forest, it proved a squad which remains in the hunt for a second-placed finish truly cares about the club.
"On Saturday night, we had a supporters' do and the boys were visibly upset and disappointed," he said. "I'd rather have that, players who care for their results and care for their performances.
"There's a lot of players in this division who don't care two whatsits for their teams. They couldn't give a stuff, really.
"We've got people here who care, though. I can guarantee you that. They wouldn't play if they didn't."
United enter their meeting with Forest in third - three points behind second-placed Leeds with four matches remaining - after Cooper's last gasp effort, combined with Sheffield Wednesday's defeat at Elland Road, enabled Marcelo Bielsa's squad to consolidate its grip on the runners-up berth.
Although Wilder admitted United must issue a response when Martin O'Neill's side arrive at Bramall Lane - "It's a huge weekend for us and yes, we've got to win some games" - he rubbished suggestions they lack the experience required to cope with the pressure associated with a top-flight challenge.
Indeed, after referencing Oliver Norwood's back to back promotions with Brighton and Fulham, Gary Madine's match into the top-flight with Cardiff City and Richard Stearman's achievements at Wolves, he used an example from the not-so-distant past to illustrate the fallacy of that argument.
"To win League One, after those first four games, and then to take it to the division a year after, that tells you something," Wilder said, reflecting upon United's climb out of the third tier two years ago. "We didn't win any of our first four but went on the win the title and that tells you something about the group."
"You don't win games of football, or do what they've done over two to three years, without a fantastic spirit," he continued. "Without a grittiness and a steeliness to prove people wrong and win games."
Forest make the short journey north in 11th, despite spending nearly £20m on two players alone last summer. Although O'Neill's appointment earlier this term has not catapulted them into play-off contention, Wilder remains respectful of both the threat Forest pose and his own team's ability to out-perform them over the course of the campaign.
Madine, who scored the opener against Millwall, could spearhead United's attack against the former European champions after captain Billy Sharp was ruled-out with a hamstring complaint while Scott Hogan, on loan from Aston Villa, has also been placed on stand-by.
"We've got it all on to win a game against a great club and a great, very talented manager," Wilder said. "It's all on every week in this division. And because it's all on, it shows what we've been doing to be in this position at this stage."