Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has claimed that qualifying for the Championship play-offs would be a bigger achievement than last season’s League One title triumph because of “certain things that have been flying around” at Bramall Lane.
In an apparent reference to the on-going issue between co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who recently launched an attempt to take full control of the club, Wilder then insisted his focus was on footballing rather than boardroom matters as United prepare for tomorrow’s pivotal match against sixth-placed Middlesbrough.
With his team four points behind the visitors from Teesside with five matches remaining, Wilder said: “I’ve got to say, and I talked to someone this morning about it, I think if we get in the play-offs this year with certain things that have been flying around, I think that would eclipse what happened last year.”
Asked if he knew when the outcome of Prince Abdullah’s takeover attempt would become clear, Wilder, who led United to promotion 12 months ago, replied: “That’s not a question I need to answer. That’s a question for other people.”
United, who remained ninth when they were beaten by Barnsley last weekend, host fellow top six hopefuls Millwall following the visit of Tony Pulis’ squad.
Maybe we can upset, certainly, the guide to who was tipped to get out of this division at the start of the season,” Wilder said. “Maybe everyone looks at us now, including some of our own supporters, and thinks: ‘It’s slipped, it’s gone.’ But fortunately we have the power to alter that process and hopefully we will.”
United were beaten in controversial circumstances when they faced Middlesbrough at the Riverside in August. Defender Jack O’Connell appeared to have claimed a last minute equaliser but the goal was incorrectly disallowed by the referee and his assistant.
Describing that fixture as a turning point in United’s campaign, Wilder said: “When we first stepped into this division, it was the first away game, we were looking at their players, the money they had paid since coming out of the Premier League and their array of talent.
“That was possibly the first time, when we were on the back foot for 45 minutes, when we thought ‘this is what Championship football is all about.’ Then we had a shake-up at half-time and the lads came storming back. Now, 40 odd games later, we are within touching distance. I don’t think many people would have thought that. That was the starting point when we thought the bigger boys are here to be taken down. We’ve shown we can compete at the top end of the division.”
“I don’t see why we can’t have a big week,” Wilder added. “I don’t see why we can’t have a big night. Now is the time for everyone, staff, players and supporters, to puff out their chests and give it everything they’ve got. We know we need some big results. But I also know the attitude of these players.”