If Sheffield United’s players thought Chris Wilder was playing to the gallery by claiming “there is no such thing as a friendly” then his demeanour following Tuesday’s defeat by FC Halifax Town dispelled any doubt.
A post-match address, conducted in the middle of the pitch rather than the sanctuary of the dressing room, betrayed Wilder’s frustration at aspects of the visitors’ performance. But, as James Wilson acknowledged, the manager had been right to deliver a few home truths.
“We are going to come up against teams who play that way,” the centre-half said. “And we’ve got to deal with it better than that. Yes, it’s pre-season but we need to work on things pretty quickly. That will happen though. We’ll work hard to correct and out them right.”
With Wilder making six new signings since taking charge earlier this summer, his revamped squad will inevitably take time to gel. Halifax, hand-picked to provide the type of threat United must negate in order to win promotion next term, obliged by producing a fired-up, tenacious display. Wilder’s comments during the post-match inquest, however, suggested he felt psychology, not a lack of physicality, was behind the result.
“These games are useful exercises and we have to take them seriously,” Wilson, previously of Oldham Athletic, continued. “We played some decent football but not for long enough periods. That is something we are going to have to put right on Saturday.”
United continued their preparations for August 6th’s League One opener against Bolton Wanderers at Grimsby Town this weekend. Wilder, whose side had beaten Stocksbridge Park Steels and a Murcia Representative XI en route to The Shay, insisted it would be a mistake to interpret his public address as gesture politics. “The changing rooms here are very small. I wanted to talk to everyone and that’s the only reason we did it out there.”
But he did admit the match, which United lost 2-0, had been “useful in other ways.” Not least because it highlighted several players who, mentally at least, appeared slightly off-the-pace.
“Maybe we thought this would be another game where we could put our foot on the ball and roll it around a little bit,” Wilder said. “It wasn’t. We got shocked and, to be honest, I’m quite glad we did.”
Wilson, who joined United earlier this month after leaving Boundary Park, was a notable exception. Partnering fellow new arrival Jack O’Connell at the heart of Wilder’s remodelled defence, he finished the game alongside former Oxford United captain Jake Wright.
“I’ve played with all of the lads now and the manager might be bringing another person in our position in,” Wilson said. “So that’s good because we’ll have to get used to how we all go about things. What our strengths are, what our weaknesses are and the things we like and don’t like. Communication is really important at the back but, to be fair, it’s the across the pitch. There are quite a few new faces here and so that’s always going to take a bit of work.”
“I think you can gel together pretty quickly thought,” he added. “It might sound corny but you do it through hard work and being switched on in training. Paying attention to everything that’s going on and being aware.
“To be fair, we have worked hard individually and for each other. The training has been tough but good.”
Meanwhile, United have announced that less than 450 tickets remain on sale for Saturday’s match at Blundell Park. They will remain on sale until noon tomorrow unless already sold out. Entrance will not be available on the day.