The message was critical, the motivation was catharsis but, even though it will have been scant consolation after a brief lapse in concentration cost Sheffield United dear once again, at least Chris Wilder’s brutally frank post-match address did not cost him a pint.
“I think we should all be queuing up to buy him one,” Jamal Blackman insisted, following the manager’s admission his squad might shun him at an annual awards ceremony later that night. “For the work he’s done, for the work he’s doing, every one of us should be getting him a drink.”
Wilder probably felt like drowning his sorrows after an opportunistic finish from Millwall’s Steve Morison denied United the win which, following Tuesday’s victory over fellow contenders Middlesbrough, would have truly turbo-charged their top six push.
United are three points behind the play-off positions with as many games remaining and their hopes of achieving back-to-back promotion are still very much alive. But, having seen his side surrender a lead for the third time in four outings, Wilder can be forgiving for wondering how the Championship table might look if they developed a ruthless streak.
The simplicity of Morison’s effort, coupled with the fact it came less than two minutes after Leon Clarke had edged United in front, only heightened the sense of disappointment.
“I think it’s one of those frustrating ones where you go ahead and then it turns back again so quickly,” Blackman, who was left horribly exposed when Morison latched on to a long upfield punt, continued. “We all wanted the points, We worked so hard and thought we could stop Millwall’s run. But we’ve got to move on quickly now and stay focused.”
Wilder was caught in two minds about how to greet a result which, with the visitors now unbeaten in their last 17 league outings, would on any other day been cause for encouragement.
United, he acknowledged, showed heart, desire and created chances aplenty even after conceding. They have, no matter how the rest of the campaign unfolds, exceeded all expectations and beaten the financial odds. Nevertheless, given the size of the prize potentially on offer, he wants the reigning League One champions to keep pushing forward. It is not in his nature to be content or satisfied.
“I was just critical,” Wilder said before breaking into laughter. “Because it makes you feel so much better. And I have been. We’ve got our Player of the Year do tonight and I don’t think I’ll be getting bought a pint off any of them. I think I’ll be buying my own drinks. Maybe I’ll have a few, chill out and think differently when I’m not in the heat of the moment. But we’ve set the bar high, haven’t we.”
“It’s a real difficult one for me because these players deserve an enormous amount of credit for what they’ve done for me personally, what they’ve done as a group and for how they dragged themselves off the deck after a real sucker punch,” Wilder, celebrating his 100th game in charge of United, continued.
“But then there’s just that little bit in the back of your mind thinking we should be so much better off. Yet again, we’re looking at other teams and wondering how they are getting on.”
Although Blackman made several fine saves after returning from suspension, most notably to deny Jake Cooper while the score was still deadlocked, his opposite numbe,r Jordan Archer, excelled for Millwall. Organised, well-drilled and physical, United spent most of the afternoon on the front foot but struggled to prise apart the visitors’ defence. When they did, Archer sprang into action to thwart Richard Stearman, George Baldock and John Fleck, twice, before Clarke, on target for the 18th time since August, pounced.
“We’re still in a good position,” Blackman, on loan from Chelsea, said. “We’ve had a great season already and we want to keep it going.
“It’s good that the manager is never satisfied. He’s always looking to improve us, even though we’re new to the league, and that gives us a great chance.
“Millwall defended well and maybe it was just a loss of concentration from us that changed the structure of the game.”
NEARLY BUT, YET AGAIN, NOT QUITE
United were still celebrating Clarke’s opener, a stooping header after the influential Lee Evans and Jack O’Connell had combined, when Cooper launched a long ball upfield and Morison turned it past Blackman.
Wilder praised both clubs’ attitude - “People talk about the Championship, the quality and the technical aspect. That was two going toe to toe” - but lamented his side’s failure to either read the 23-year-old’s intentions or prevent Morison from darting into space.
“It was naive of us not to think, when it comes to their left centre-half, that it’s going nowhere else than down the throat of our three centre-halves,” Wilder said.
“But it was a great finish, to be fair.”
Continuing the cordial theme he had adopted to this fixture earlier in the week, Wilder also conceded Millwall should have been awarded a penalty following a Chris Basham foul.
But United, who saw Archer acrobatically palm Evans’ long-range attempt to safety during the closing stages, had earlier gone close on numerous occasions themselves.
After dragging a low shot wide, Fleck went close again before Stearman saw a powerful drive blocked. Baldock thought he had scored after meeting O’Connell’s centre but Archer somehow got a glove to the ball.
Blackman said: “We can still do it, because we’re so tight and together. One result changes the whole league in an instant.”For more news from Bramall Lane click here