Sheffield United: Why has Chris Wilder issued an apology ahead of a potentially history-making weekend at Bramall Lane?

He started what Sheffield United hope will be their penultimate pre-match press conference this season with a cricketing analogy and a joke.

Friday, 26th April 2019, 2:06 pm
Updated Friday, 26th April 2019, 5:59 pm
Paul Lambert, manager of Ipswich Town, greets Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But after admitting his "straight bat" approach would put Geoffrey Boycott to shame and probably "empty the Western Terrace", Chris Wilder got down to the serious business. Namely United's efforts to win automatic promotion from the Championship and, after 12 long years outside of the top-flight, regain their Premier League status.

Tomorrow, when they host Paul Lambert's Ipswich Town in front of a sell-out crowd at Bramall Lane, Wilder's second-placed squad know that recording their third win in succession will effectively see them achieve that aim. Three points ahead of Leeds and boasting a vastly superior goal difference, United know beating the visitors from Suffolk would leave Marcelo Bielsa's side needing a miracle result to avoid the play-offs even if they defeat Aston Villa on Sunday.

"I’d be just delighted if we get over the line and get the job done," Wilder said. "It would be a fantastic achievement for the players. I’d be delighted for them and the fans, but we’ve still got a big job to do."

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Pressure has been a constant companion for United in recent weeks as they attempt to regain a seat at English football's top table. But while Wilder's men have risen to the challenge, dispatching both Nottingham Forest and Hull City over the Easter period, their Yorkshire rivals have faltered, suffering back to back defeats to Wigan Athletic and Brentford.

Wilder, who unlike Bielsa has shoe-horned plenty of leisure time into his team's schedule, revealed United can draw upon their experience of lifting the League One title only two years ago.

"Just revert to type and do what you’ve done to get you this far," he explained. "That's what you've got to do.

"It’s human nature that everything is going to crank up. I can’t get away from that. I’d be mugging myself off if I said there was nothing to play for, there’s a huge prize. But then there always is."

Sheffield United beat Hull City on Monday: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

If, and he insisted it remains an 'if', United overcome opponents already relegated to the third tier, it would leave Wilder on the verge of delivering promotion from all three EFL divisions after steering Northampton Town out of League Two before being unveiled as Nigel Adkins' successor. The 51-year-old, a lifelong supporter and former United player, also steered Oxford out of the Conference ahead of his switch to Sixfields.

"I was at Oxford and the prize of getting back into the Football League and what would have been the prize if we had not got into the Football League," he said. "That was a pressure situation.

"You fall back on our values, what you believe in and how you manage and how you want your group to react and behave."

Despite their troubles this term, Wilder believes Ipswich will prove a formidable challenge as they look to rebuild under Lambert. The Scot has won only three of his 30 fixtures at the helm but has helped the visitors hold Derby County, Bristol City and West Bromwich Albion to draws, as well has frustrating United at Portman Road in December.

England fans on the Western Terrace at Headingley: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

"It’s quite interesting that people expect us just to beat Forest with Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, a team that was tipped to go up, let alone not be in the play-offs," Wilder said. "Hull as well on Monday, that was seen as just another win. But there’re never just another win. You’ve got to tick a lot of boxes to win games.

"We’ve had to work extremely hard to get into this position and extremely hard over the Easter weekend. Now we’ve got to work extremely hard again on Saturday."

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: James Wilson/Sportimage