The last manager to talk about avoiding relegation while his team chased a title was Claudio Ranieri and we all know how that turned out.
So, after insisting that reaching 50 points remains Sheffield United’s primary objective following their victory over Ipswich Town, Chris Wilder should forgive folk for interpreting his words as a tacit admission that, yes, this very special group of players now believe they can cause England’s greatest footballing upset since Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions.
Chris Basham peddled exactly the same message after scoring the goal which ensured last season’s League One title-winners finished the weekend only two points behind early leaders Wolves.
But, given the ease with which United have acclimatised to life in a higher division, attempts to distract from their potential are becoming increasingly futile.
“The way the gaffer goes, it’s just look at the next game,” he said.
“That’s the mentality the boys have. Yes, there are targets. Actually, I don’t think we’ve made any. I’m probably lying. There aren’t. It’s just look at the next game and win that.”
Mick McCarthy, Wilder’s opposite number, was also having none of it, describing United as a “very good” outfit and top-six team elect.
Although achieving back-to-back promotions may yet prove beyond the Blades, particularly given the sums many of their rivals can spend during the January transfer window, Basham’s acknowledgement that being written off only fuels their determination provided a telling insight into the psyche of Wilder’s squad.
“The gaffer said for the first time today: ‘They are chasing us so just enjoy it.’ And I we did,” he continued. “We have characters in our group from last year, when we had every team in League One chasing us. Why can’t we have every team in the Championship chasing us?”
“But we are not going to get ahead of ourselves. It’s a tough competition. Against Ipswich if that was in League One, I think we would have won 3-0 or 4-0. Against a side who are strong at the back and have scored all season, it was one of those games where we knew we had to keep a clean sheet.”
DUFFY REVEALS ALL
There was a moment towards the end of this game which summed up perfectly why United, despite their lack of household names or big-money signings, are such a formidable proposition. With only five minutes remaining and the outcome, following Basham’s earlier intervention, still delicately poised, Mark Duffy completed a lung-busting 50-yard run to deny an opponent a clear sight of goal. The attacker’s actions were rewarded with the second-biggest cheer of the afternoon and revealed the depth of character within United’s ranks.
“I’ve never seen pace like that before from Duffy,” Basham said. “It was a great attitude and exactly the type of thing you want.”
Of course, there is more to United than commitment and it was telling that this result, which leaves them third in the table, was achieved without a number of key names.
John Lundstram, deputising for the suspended Paul Coutts, performed well and created an early opportunity for Leon Clarke who, together with John Fleck, was responsible for creating the chance which Basham expertly tucked away. George Baldock was also missing, due to injury, and when fellow wing-back Kieron Freeman left the pitch on a stretcher after damaging a knee, a change of shape followed when Jake Wright was summoned from the bench.
“I went over to see him and it looked a sore one,” Basham, seemingly unaware that Freeman had suffered a suspected dislocation, admitted.
“Poor Kieron has just come back from injury. I don’t think he will be out for too long. Hopefully it’s just a scan.”
THE RIGHT OUTCOME
By the time Martyn Waghorn tested Jamal Blackman midway through the opening period, the hosts had already built up a head of steam.
The former Rangers striker struck the woodwork soon after the deadlock had been broken before Clarke responded in kind for the home side.
“We’re not celebrating anything now,” Basham said. “But if the boys keep on doing what they’re doing, we won’t be far away.”