Their balance sheet might make for troubling reading but, Chris Wilder has admitted, even a cursory glance at Bolton Wanderers’ squad list reveals a club stuffed to the gills with expensive, top quality talent.
Little wonder then, the Sheffield United manager described tomorrow’s meeting with Phil Parkinson’s side as possibly the “greatest test” of his team’s promotion credentials during yesterday’s press conference at the Steelphalt Academy.
“Now we go again, against Bolton, on Saturday,” Wilder, who described last weekend’s performance against Scunthorpe as “outstanding”, said. “The challenge to the players is can we reach the heights we did on Saturday.
“I think they (Bolton) go under the radar a little bit, a lot of things off the pitch has deflected from what they have going for them on the pitch. They have support, staff, facilities, and more importantly a set of players, 24 really top class players. This is the biggest test of the season for us and one we are really looking forward to.”
Although Gary Madine’s bizarre social media experiments have dominated the news agenda - a video emerged on the internet of him insulting United captain Billy Sharp earlier this month - Wilder’s analysis team have identified other, possibly more dangerous, threats among the travelling party.
Dean Moxey, Adam le Fondre, Mark Beevers and Dorian Dervite are among those players Parkinson can call upon with a wealth Championship experience. Former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing, Darren Pratley and David Wheater, previously of Middlesbrough, boast a combined total of over 150 top-flight appearances combined.
With United five points clear at the top of the League One table, seven ahead of their latest opponents, Wheater believes the title race is already over.
“Sheffield United look as if they are probably going to win it because they have got a top striker (Sharp) who’s been banging in goals all season,” he said. “I think he’s got 20 now. But second place would still mean we get back into the Championship, which is where I think we belong.”
While the defender’s comments form part of the psychological war swirling around this fixture, they do highlight its significance.
Wilder, who revealed on-loan defender Joe Riley has returned to Manchester United for treatment after dislocating his shoulder during training, turned the tables by reminding Bolton’s perilous finances have not hampered their efforts to gain promotion or Parkinson’s recruitment plans. Nevertheless, expressing his respect and admiration for the visitors’ coaching staff, underlined he was merely stating fact rather than playing mind games.
“Look at where they have got them (their players) from,” Wilder said. “They have not really took them out of the youth team - I don’t see a lot of youth team players promoted - they have got a senior group who have played the majority of their football in the Premier League and the Championship.
“That’s the challenge we have to overcome. What happens off the pitch doesn’t really affect the players on the pitch. Their preparation will be just the same, pre-match meals and overnight stops. They won’t all of a sudden turn up in mini-buses, they will have same preparation they are used to.”