Whisper it quietly, but Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder could be feeling pretty sick tomorrow night

Whisper it quietly because, as Chris Wilder admitted following his team’s most recent Premier League outing, hearing Sheffield United described as European contenders makes him feel “sick to the back teeth”.

Tuesday, 23rd June 2020, 5:05 pm

But, after preparing for tomorrow evening’s meeting with Manchester United only two points behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s fifth-placed side, the 52-year-old should brace himself for another bout of nausea if the visitors’ secure their 12th win of the campaign and first since ‘Project Restart’ was triggered last week.

Wilder’s refusal to publicly countenance the prospect of qualifying for either the Europa or the Champions leagues stems from both his desire to retain a sense of perspective surrounding United’s achievements following last term’s promotion and frustration at the manner of their defeat by Newcastle.

But as he picked through the bones of that 3-0 loss - expressing displeasure at their defending, body language after falling two goals behind and referee David Coote’s decision to send John Egan off - Wilder urged his squad to use Sunday’s events in the North-East as the catalyst for a much-improved display at Old Trafford.

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“There’s good motivation, in terms of that performance, and there’s motivation from producing rubbish halves of football that we did up there,” Wilder said, after insisting United “been more than in the game” before the interval. “I can take defeat. It’s just the manner really.”

If that sounded a shade harsh on a group of players who have exceeded all expectations this term - United were being written-off as certainties for relegation after clawing their way out of the Championship 14 months ago - it is because Wilder believes they respond well to criticism and disappointment.

“The lads can either like it or not,” he said during yesterday’s pre-match media conference, again held via Zoom because of social distancing measures introduced following the Covid-19 pandemic. “But they don’t really have a choice. It’s a tough business, professional football, there’s no hiding place and you’ve got to front it up.”

United have lost only eight times in the competition since August and on all but one occasion - when they faced runaway leaders Liverpool four days after travelling to Manchester City - have they failed to take something from their next league game.

Sheffield United's Chris Wilder (C Left) speaks to his players during a drinks break during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Sheffield United at St James' Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north east England: LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

In order to maintain that proud record, United, who were controversially held to a draw by Aston Villa last week, must produce one of their most courageous displays of the season so far. With on-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson ineligible for selection against his parent club, United will also enter the fixture without the suspended Egan while fellow defenders Phil Jagielka and Jack O’Connell could also miss out through injury. David McGoldrick has also been receiving treatment after falling awkwardly at Villa Park and missed the clash with Newcastle.

“There’s very few players have it their own way all the way through their careers,” Wilder said. “And you have to get over disappointment with the schedule we’ve got. You have to take care of your own business."

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Chris Wilder, the manager of Sheffield United is interviewed at a distance after the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Sheffield United: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

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Sheffield United travel to Manchester United in their next Premier League outing: Nigel French/PA Wire.