Chris Wilder knows all about dirty tricks. Having cut his managerial teeth in non-league football, he has probably performed most of them before.
So, when they read opponents describing visits to Bramall Lane as ‘no lose’ occasions, Wilder has advised Sheffield United’s players to turn a blind eye. Otherwise, the 48-year-old warned ahead of tomorrow’s League One meeting with Rochdale, they will very quickly get bored.
“Possibly for another 23 games, I know exactly what they’ll all be saying,” he admitted. “Because it’s always the same old thing. ‘The pressure is on Sheffield United, we’ve got nothing to lose.’ But whatever I say, whatever the other guys say, doesn’t affect the outcome. And, in any case, show me someone involved in this business who doesn’t feel compelled to try and win?”
Despite some impressive signs during their opening two matches of the new season, winning is something United have yet to do. After conspiring to create and then miss numerous promising situations, Jay Spearing’s wonder-strike condemned them to defeat at Bolton Wanderers last weekend. Against Crewe Alexandra in the EFL Cup on Tuesday evening, the story, if not the scoreline, was exactly the same.
Wilder cut a phlegmatic if understandably dissatisfied figure when he discussed the matter during his pre-match press conference yesterday.
“If my goalkeeper was having to make save after save, if we were on the rack, I might have a different mindset,” Wilder said. “But he’s not and we haven’t been. I still think the principles are there. We’ve been positive, we want them to create chances, which we have done, we want them to dominate the opposition, which we have done. We want them to press which we’ve done as well. It’s just the tidying up of the little bits. Those are the things that are hurting us right now.”
United have engineered 24 shots so far this season yet, following Leon Clarke’s first-half effort in midweek, they are preparing for Rochdale’s visit with only one goal to their name. Wilder concedes it is a poor return given the firepower at his disposal. But, assessing the pedigree of players such as Marc McNulty, Matt Done and Billy Sharp, remains adamant things will change.
“Historically, if you look at Billy, Leon, Matt Done, Marc McNulty and also Dominic (Calvert-Lewin), we’ve got goals in us. For us to score only one in both our games so far is quite outstanding because you would have expected, with the amount of play we’ve had and the chances we’ve had, to get more.
“If you’d watched the DVD’s, stopped them at a particular point and said ‘You’re only going to score one goal from two’ well, people would think you were mad. But the fact is, that’s what’s happened.”
“From a psychological point of view, we understand we need to get a win quickly,” Wilder continued. “But if the players show the same energy, determination and enthusiasm they have in the first two games and in pre-season, it’s going to happen. It takes time to educate players in what you want to do. It takes a little bit longer than a couple of weeks and some pre-season games. But it will happen. It’ll change.”
What will not change, however, are the principles underpinning his regime. Against a Rochdale side expected to include former United defender Harrison McGahey in their starting eleven, Wilder aims to employ the same tactical template which, for the opening period of the contest at least, threatened to overwhelm Bolton.
Jack O’Connell and Done, who both represented the visitors before joining United, should also feature while goalkeeper George Long has recovered from a knock sustained during the extra-time loss to Crewe.
“I think we’re close, I’ll always give an honest opinion,” Wilder, previously of Halifax, Oxford and Northampton, said. “We’ve had the opportunity to watch the games again, we see them with our own eyes and yes, we want us to be a little bit more positive and a little bit more braver. Yes, there will be times when we have to retain possession, I don’t want us just to smash it. But we can always get better. It’s important that, as coaching staff, we believe in what we are doing and we stick to it.”