Chris Wilder has challenged his players to give him “the hardest job” in the Championship ahead as they enter a potentially season-defining run of games, starting with Tuesday’s visit of Aston Villa.
Speaking after the FA Cup victory over Preston North End, the Sheffield United manager revealed details of a meeting he had with Bramall Lane’s first team squad ahead of the fourth round tie.
“That was a talk I had with the players yesterday,” Wilder said, following last weekend’s 1-0 win. “I want to have the hardest job I could possibly have going forward now in terms of picking the right team and formation.
“The players, to do that, have got to really step up now, starting with Aston Villa. They are a giant of this division and, as everybody knows, shouldn’t be where they are.”
New signings Ricky Holmes, Ryan Leonard and Lee Evans were all ineligible for the meeting with Preston after appearing for their previous clubs in earlier rounds. James Wilson, on loan from Manchester United, watched from the bench as captain Billy Sharp settled the fixture with a second-half penalty and Ched Evans made his long-awaited return from injury.
“I thought Ched gave us a lift,” Wilder said. “He’s been nice and bright in training. He was the spark that lifted the surroundings, he gave us a bit of an edge.
“He was aggressive and physical, he gave us a platform to push their two centre-halves backwards. I wouldn’t like to be a centre-half playing against him in the next batch of games.”
“We’ve got big games coming up now, right way through,” added Wilder, whose seventh placed side face leaders Wolves and neighbours Leeds after the meeting with Villa.
“These are great games for us to have a go at.”
“We found a way when we weren’t playing great,” Wilder added.
“That’s been our Achilles Heel at times. We’ve played well and not always married that up with a positive result. Today, we weren’t great but won the game so maybe we are learning something.”