It probably went unnoticed by most members of the crowd but, one seemingly inconsequential moment towards the end of last weekend’s meeting with AFC Wimbledon, convinced Chris Wilder that Sheffield United are back on track.
“The game was basically over, we were 4-0 up with only a few minutes to play, and there was Jack (O’Connell) and Jake (Wright) giving everything to get a block on the ball. It didn’t matter to them there were basically seconds left. They just wanted to make sure we didn’t concede.”
Scoring goals has not been a problem for United this season. They travel to Peterborough tomorrow having claimed 69 in their previous 31 games. Preventing them, however, has proved much more difficult. Particularly, Wilder conceded yesterday, during the three matches leading-up to their clash with the visitors from Kingsmeadow.
“Psychologically, keeping that clean sheet was important,” he admitted. “It’s good to get that side of things right. I don’t think we were ever getting carved apart, as it were, just making individual errors and getting punished for them. Systemically, there was nothing wrong. But it’s important to try and cut those mistakes out.”
Having drawn with Gillingham and lost to both Walsall and Fleetwood Town, overwhelming Neal Ardley’s side marked a welcome return to form for United. Especially ahead of what Wilder predicted could be an explosive encounter at London Road. Peterborough, despite becoming less cavalier under Grant McCann this season, still possess plenty of attacking options.
Nullifying those threats without diluting their own power going forward has featured prominently on United’s ‘to-do’ list during training this week
Jake Wright’s return to action - the centre-half has yet to feature on the losing side since moving to Bramall Lane in July - coincided with United recording their first shut-out in six games.
Although it is no coincidence that the League One leaders look a much more secure unit when the 30-year-old features - his organisational qualities bring the best out of O’Connell and Ethan Ebanks-Landell - Wilder is adamant that psychology, not selections, also played a part in United’s improved defensive display.
“A couple of players have said, maybe our minds drifted from the mindset of ‘the next game’,” Wilder continued. “After the Fleetwood game, we had a couple of days off, and reset ourselves to get a good result against Wimbledon.
“Sometimes you need these reminders, maybe things had drifted because it was going ever so well. Supporters and everybody get thinking ‘that’s it, it’s all done and dusted’. Then all of a sudden you get a couple of smacks in the face.
“I don’t think it’s to do with the players’ attitudes during the games, that’s spot on. Everybody knows how tough this league is and nobody connected to this football club for the last six years will think this has been a straightforward journey.”