Sheffield United: How golf is helping to shape this season’s promotion push

Sheffield United's players head to Reading this weekend: David Klein/Sportimage
Sheffield United's players head to Reading this weekend: David Klein/Sportimage

In quieter moments, on those rare occasions something other than tactics, team selections and training schedules dominate his thoughts, Chris Wilder likes to play golf.

It is a hobby he has worked hard to develop since taking charge of Sheffield United two years ago and one, as he trudges Hallamshire's rolling, tree-lined fairwards, provides a welcome escape from the pressures of Championship football and managing his hometown club.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder loves his golf: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder loves his golf: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

So therapeutic are these rounds with close friends and confidants, they are beginning to influence his weekly press briefings too. Indeed, ever since United emerged as promotion contenders, he has been using golfing analogies to highlight those areas of the game where they must improve.

"From tee to green, I think we're up there with the best in the division," he said. "The statistics we look at, and believe me we study them all, definitely bear that out.
"We get the ball out from the back well. We move it upfield effectively. What we've got to do better is the short game. Or, to put it another way, making the most of the chances we create."

Although United's need for extra firepower has always been apparent, it has become particularly evident since the international break. Wilder's team have enjoyed more attempts on goal in all but one of their last three outings but, after individuals errors accentuated this weakness, taken only four points from a possible nine. That indifferent form sees them travel to Reading this weekend sixth in the table, five points behind second-placed Leeds who triumphed 1-0 at Bramall Lane four days ago.

Dismissing suggestions that losing ground on the leaders could actually work to United's advantage by easing expectation levels, Wilder continued with the golfing theme.

Sheffield United won their last away game, against Brentford: David Klein/Sportimage

Sheffield United won their last away game, against Brentford: David Klein/Sportimage

"It doesn't annoy us at all, going under the radar," he added. "Outside stuff, we can't control. 

"We don't want to turn down points. We don't think, lets turn down a point so we stay out of the top six. 

"I love my golf shouts and you don't see a golfer thinking I want to shoot a 78 in the first round and then that means I've got to hit 62 in the last to try and win."

United's preparations for the visit to Berkshire are talking place against a backdrop of activity in their football administration department as Wilder, in tandem with his assistant Alan Knill, head of recruitment Paul Mitchell and executive Carl Shieber attempt to ascertain which of his targets are likely to be within budget and those who will prove beyond the club's financial reach.

Sheffield United will be hoping to repeat that result at the Madejski Stadium: David Klein/Sportimage

Sheffield United will be hoping to repeat that result at the Madejski Stadium: David Klein/Sportimage

Although most of the money set aside from David Brooks' £11.5m transfer to AFC Bournemouth is thought to remain intact, with the Premier League loan market his preferred port of call, it is likely to take an extra commitment from United's co-owners to scout effectively a division where the average wage has now surpassed £50,000 a week. The highest paid member of Wilder's first team squad is believed to earn around half that amount.

With five fixtures remaining before the transfer window reopens in January, United's priority, however, must be ensuring those already at their disposal improve the club's chances per goal ratio. With Paul Clement's side low on confidence and results, taking exploiting opportunities created during the opening period of the game could prove crucial at the Madejski Stadium.

"We're producing plenty and we're going well," Wilder said. "But there's always things you can do better. We’re in a good place.”