“We’ve got no chance, have we?” Chris Wilder joked, when asked how his team will fare against Middlesbrough.
It was a throwaway comment, designed to mock some of the more hackneyed previews ahead of Sheffield United’s visit to the Riverside. But it did shed some light on the psyche of Wilder’s squad as they prepare for their meeting with opponents whose own chairman, Steve Gibson, insists will “smash” the Championship after lavishing £15m on one player alone.
“People keep telling us we don’t have a hope in hell,” Wilder said. “But we’ll go up there and give it a go. It’s a great opportunity for us and a free hit in many ways. At the end of the day, it all boils down to a game of football.”
Wilder’s respect for Garry Monk’s side was plain to see when he discussed this evening’s fixture with the media at the Steelphalt Academy yesterday. However, despite acknowledging United can not compete with Middlesbrough’s spending power off-the-pitch, he insisted they can still cause them problems on it.
“Maybe a slight advantage is that we’re possibly a little bit more settled in terms of our shape and our team,” Wilder continued. “How much that counts for, we’ll find out when the game gets underway.
“They’ve got a lot of quality, when you look at their transactions. There’s a lot of things that will have to go our way to get a result, we understand that. But games aren’t won on paper or on names or statures of clubs. They are won on the pitch. If they are better than us, then they’ll win. If we are better than them, then they will.”
United, the reigning League One champions, opened the new campaign by beating Brentford 1-0 last weekend thanks to Billy Sharp’s first-half goal. Middlesbrough, who have spent over £40m since being relegated from the top-flight earlier this year, lost to Wolves.
Wilder, whose team has not tasted defeat since January, also believes those quick to write-off their chances have overlooked the influence of United’s travelling support.
With over 2,000 fans set to make the journey from South Yorkshire to Teesside, he said: “I hope that we sell-out. We’ve been given an allocation and I’d love the support to be there in full as it was last year. I’d love to see our players come out to a capacity away end but I know it’s difficult with prices, being on SKY and such like. If it’s not, I know it won’t be for the want of trying because they (the supporters) give so much for our club.”
Monk took charge of Middlesbrough two months ago after resigning his position at Leeds.
Wilder, a lifelong United supporter and former player, refused to be riled by Gibson’s comments about the Teesside club’s prospects ahead of the televised clash. (Kick-off 5.30pm). But he did admit to “not being surprised” by Monk’s decision to jump ship.
“He’s gone from a great football club, which they are even though they’re a rival, but possibly the most volatile in the football league to probably the safest,” Wilder said. “Everybody recognises in football, he’s a really good chairman to stick by that club and do what he has through up’s and down’s. So it’s not really for me to comment on what he says. Peter Beagrie was my pal when I was a kid here and he was one of the first signings here when they were locking the gates up there. Now they’ve been in the Premier League, Europe and have got a top ground. Who is to say, with the new manager, they won’t get back up there?”