Sheffield United: Why Chris Wilder is speaking the truth...the fans can be the difference

Chris Wilder is aware is sounds like a cliche. Or, for someone who prides himself on being forthright, a touch saccharine.

By James Shield
Thursday, 4th April 2019, 1:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 1:14 pm
Sheffield United are challenging for automatic promotion: James Wilson/Sportimage
Sheffield United are challenging for automatic promotion: James Wilson/Sportimage

But his decision to talk-up the influence of Sheffield United's supporters, nearly 6,000 of whom will travel to Preston North End this week, is more than simply an attempt to curry favour on the terraces. Not that he has to after leading the visitors to third in the Championship table.

Yesterday, when Wilder described United's following as an inspiration and instrumental to their hopes of securing automatic promotion, he was speaking from a personal and professional standpoint.

Sheffield United fans have inspired the team, Chris Wilder says: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Acknowledging that the backing of the fans has helped his side plot a course through some difficult matches in recent months, the 51-year-old is convinced it will be even more important now as injuries and fatigue begin to hit United's squad.

Both, coaching staff suspect, were factors behind last weekend's defeat by Bristol City which marked the end of their team's 10 match unbeaten run and saw Leeds climb above them into second.

"I didn't think my players, who went away, had a lot of energy," Wilder said, reflecting upon the loss to City and United's first outing since the international break. "And that's not being critical of them. I was always conscious of it and that's one of the reasons why I knew this was going to be a tough game."

Republic of Ireland centre-forward David McGoldrick and Kieran Dowell, the England under-21 midfielder, were both thrust into action against City despite being scheduled to enjoy a rest. With Gary Madine still suspended and Mark Duffy receiving treatment for an Achilles complaint which is expected to rule him out of the meeting with Preston, the two have both been wrapped in cotton wool this week as they prepare to start again.

Nearly six thousand Sheffield United fans are travelling to Deepdale: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Alex Neil's men, who despite being ranked 10th are only three points outside of the play-offs, are likely to prove stubborn opposition as they attempt to avenge September's defeat in South Yorkshire.

That, combined with United's imperfect preparation, is why Wilder believes the crowd has an important role to play.

"We work hard and teams are working hard when they face us," the 51-year-old, who revealed on Tuesday that City had covered more miles and made more sprints than any other away team at Bramall Lane this term, continued. "We've had a brilliant fitness record and that's down to the work of the conditioners, physios and the lads themselves.

"It's great when you have people going away with their countries. I'd rather that was happening than not because it means you've got good players. But I wouldn't be telling to truth if I said it didn't make it a little trickier because, ordinarily, they'd be having a rest."

After falling two points behind Leeds with seven fixtures remaining, United travel to the North-West determined to reward those also making the journey with their eight victory in 11 outings.

Speaking after a hat-trick by City's Andreas Weimann cancelled-out efforts from Scott Hogan and Billy Sharp, Wilder said: "I've got to say the way the club ramped it up was been outstanding. The way the people came through the turnstiles, over 30,000 of them was amazing. 

"One of the things I took to bed with me was that we didn't give them three points. But there's no disgrace in losing a game of football and to a good side.

“We have to be at our best every week, with what we've invested, and we weren't then but we're aiming to be next time out."