Sheffield United: Former England manager “expects” The Blades to secure at least a play-off place

Steve McClaren is a big admirer of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Steve McClaren is a big admirer of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Steve McClaren does not expect Sheffield United to fall away in this season's race for promotion, arguing Chris Wilder's squad boast all the hallmarks of a top six Championship team.

The Queens Park Rangers manager delivered his assessment following Saturday's match at Bramall Lane, which finished 1-0 in the home team's favour.

"You have to take their challenge for automatic promotion very seriously, McClaren said. "They always give themselves an opportunity. And they've got goalscorers, in Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick. 

"If they keep scoring, they'll be up there. They've made a good signing in (Gary) Madine, he brings power to an already powerful team. They are top six and I expect them to stay there."

McGoldrick's 10th goal of the season saw United climb to second in the table ahead of this weekend's visit to Swansea City. The former Ipswich Town centre-forward's first-half header ended Rangers' six match unbeaten run in all competitions and, despite being scored just before the interval, proved enough to settle a hard-fought game between two sides whose first thought was to attack.

Attributing Rangers' defeat to their poor pass selection around United's box, the erudite McClaren continued: "I thought you saw two very good teams going toe to toe and slugging it out. It was always going to be a one goal game and we were disappointed to concede. 

"In terms of our shape, how we defended without the ball, I thought we were very good. We just didn't show enough quality in the final third."

"We know they are very attacking, we know they score goals and we know they are a very fluid team," he added. "We had great organisation and that's always been our platform. 

"We had chances, without actually going on goal, and that final ball was not of the quality it has been. If that's the case, then you lose games."

Although there are still 19 matches of the campaign remaining, United's victory was significant both in terms of its timing and the manner in which it was achieved. Having previously described an inability to protect slender leads as their Achilles heel, Wilder will also be aware United have now won four back to back league fixtures at a stage of the season when their promotion challenge faltered last term.

Suggestions history could repeat itself have clearly irritated the 51-year-old and his staff in recent weeks but wing-back George Baldock said: "I wasn't aware of people saying that. If they do, well football is a game of opinions. 

"We stay level headed as players. We've got this far by just going game by game. There's 19 games to go, there will be twists and turns, and whoever learns quickest will reap the rewards."