Sheffield United stars make an admission, and plot their response, ahead of crunch clash with Everton
“Confusion,” Marty Indik, the diplomat, academic and foriegn relations analyst once said, “Is always the most honest response.”
As they finalised their preparations for Monday’s game against Everton, manager Chris Wilder and defender Jack O’Connell admitted they were both still at a loss to explain why Sheffield United will enter the match looking to bounce back from arguably the club’s most subdued performance of the season rather than gathering momentum following an emphatic win over Chelsea less than a week earlier.
But after spending 48 hours trying to fathom why United were so lacklustre during Thursday’s defeat by Leicester City - and struggling to find a reasonable answer - both have decided the best possible course of action is to simply draw a line under events inside the King Power Stadium and take out their frustrations on Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
“Rory (McIlroy) sometimes shoots an 87,” Wilder said, drawing an analogy between football and his favourite pastime golf. “Well, probably not an 87 but perhaps a 78. Sometimes it just happens, the preparation was the same and why shouldn’t it have been after the result we’d had going into it. But that, unfortunately, is the nature of professional sport.”
O’Connell was one of the players lambasted by Wilder following United’s 2-0 loss to City, with only goalkeeper Dean Henderson exempt from criticism. The result saw them pass up an opportunity to climb to sixth but, ahead of their penultimate contest of the present campaign, United still have designs on qualifying for Europe.
“The gaffer has had a word with us, we’ve had a rest and now we’re right back at it,” O’Connell admitted. “What happened last time out, it was tough to take because it wasn’t good enough.
“The hardest thing is we don’t really know why it happened. We were in good shape but just didn’t turn up. So the key now is to be right back at it, because it’s all to play for. There’s six points we can get and we want all six.”
“I think talk of mental and physical fatigue is just an excuse,” O’Connell added. “We’ve had a wake up call.”
With barely a cigarette paper between the four clubs vying to finish sixth - Wolverhampton Wanderers, who occupied that berth following the latest round of fixtures are only three points ahead of Arsenal in ninth - the outcome of United’s meeting with Everton is set to have a major bearing on the race for the Europa League, with Tottenham Hotspur also harbouring designs of securing a place in the competition next term.
“I’ve been like a bear with a sore head but we talked to the lads the day afterwards, in our way and in our manner, and I looked at their body language and their reaction,” Wilder said. “They were disappointed, because I’ve got a really honest group of lads here. They know, in this one, they need to be more competitive.”