Chris Wilder’s demeanour following Sheffield United’s last two matches betrays the fact, for all the close season talk of consolidation, promotion is the target at Bramall Lane.
It explains his withering assessment of Tuesday’s display against Queens Park Rangers which followed an equally damning verdict on their second-half performance at Leeds. Not to mention why, despite taking a more considered view, United’s manager still felt the need to discuss fundamental principles during his weekly media briefing yesterday.
Nearly 70 miles to the east, Leonid Slutsky is fighting an altogether different battle after watching Hull City make a disappointing start to the campaign. Despite those indifferent results, which even the Russian admits have placed him in jeopardy, Wilder is expecting the visitors to test United’s top six credentials when they arrive in South Yorkshire tomorrow.
“All you’ve got to do is look at their group,” he said. “There’s some real quality in there so, no matter what shape they are coming here in, you know they’ve got it in them to beat anyone in this division. That’s why we’ve got to be bang on it, do the things that, by and large, we’ve done well.”
On paper, Slutsky’s squad is an exciting mix of proven and home-grown talent, with the likes of Allan McGregor, Michael Dawson and the gifted Jarrod Bowen among those set to travel from East Yorkshire. But moulding them into an effective unit has so far proven beyond the former Russia and CSKA Moscow chief although, as many supporters will argue, the responsibility for that rests with vice-chairman Ehab Allam rather than any blame on Slutsky’s part. Relegated from the Premier League last season and with the club in a state of constant civil war, the atmospheres at the KC Stadium and United, where the bond between team and terraces is seemingly unbreakable, could not be more marked.
“I’m looking forward to meeting Leonid,” Wilder, whose side will enter the game in third, continued. “He sounds an interesting and, given his experiences, knowledgeable bloke. Hopefully we’ll be able to have a good chat.”
“He’s got a certain style on the touchline hasn’t he. But, if you stand-up and get involved, people will say you should be sitting down. If you sit down then you get accusations of not being passionate thrown at you. Basically, it all comes down to results and we’ve got to give ourselves the best possible chance, do whatever it takes, to try and get one.”
That is likely to involve the return of John Fleck in midfielder after the Scot missed the defeat at Loftus Road through suspension. Simon Moore is also expected to make his first start since April although the injury Jamal Blackman suffered in the capital is not thought to be as bad as initially feared.
“We’re hopeful there’s no bone damage,” Wilder said. “We’ll have to see.”