Footballers, as Sheffield United’s next opponents have discovered, are not shy of wreaking havoc if they don’t get what they want.
But as they prepare for Friday night’s FA Cup tie against Leicester City, Chris Wilder, the visitors’ manager, has revealed how two of his players are setting a much more positive example than Riyad Mahrez.
Captain Billy Sharp and attacking midfielder Mark Duffy, both members of the squad which lifted the League One title last term, have spent long periods on the bench since the turn of the year following an influx of new faces during the transfer window. But rather than stew, sulk or go absent without leave like Mahrez, they have actually enhanced their reputations in Bramall Lane’s bootroom.
“I’ve got to say, Duff and the skipper have been brilliant,” Wilder, who recalled both for the victory over Leeds three days ago, said. “Absolutely first class with their attitudes. They won’t have found it easy but they’ve knuckled down and got on with their jobs. They’ve made sure I’ve had tough decisions to make.
“There were some disappointing boys when we named the team on Thursday. But that disappointment, you have to channel it to help the other lads push.”
Mahrez, the Algeria winger, could make his first start for City during the fifth round fixture after reporting back for training last week. Having seen a deadline day move to Manchester City collapse when Leicester’s owners, King Power International Group, failed to accept the Premier League leader’s £50m bid, he failed to appear at Belvoir Drive until last week before criticising “untrue assumptions” about his absence.
Wilder, who faced with similar defiance would not prove as forgiving as Claude Puyel, could select Sharp and Duffy for the trip to KP Stadium having utlised them against Preston North End in the previous round.
“The new lads coming in have given us a few more options, which is good, and a decent bench too,” he said. “It’s up to me to utilise that.
“It’s difficult for fans at times because they don’t see what I see - Monday to Friday - but that’s not a comment about any individuals. I’ll always select, whatever the game, the group I believe gives us the best chance to win. That’s not going to change because the team as a whole always comes first.”
Sharp scored both of United’s goals during the Yorkshire derby against Paul Heckingbottom’s side and, with Wilder acknowledging the push for a top six finish in the Championship has now entered a critical phase, it will be intriguing to see whether or not he starts the meeting with City. James Wilson, on loan from Manchester United, is eligible for selection while Ched Evans could travel after recovering from injury.
“Players always want to play,” Wilder said. “You’d expect that and, with forwards, when they get in a groove, even more so. You want them to stay in a rhythm but also be fresh so there’s a balance to be struck.”