Sheffield Derby: Do not view Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder’s respect for Steve Bruce as a sign he is softening towards Sheffield Wednesday
Chris Wilder's tone ahead of tomorrow’s derby against Sheffield Wednesday has probably taken some of their supporters by surprise, describing the hosts as "powerful" football club, noting the talent at Steve Bruce's disposal and detailing his respect for the opposition manager.
But it would be a mistake to interpret the 51-year-old's words as a sign, with his Sheffield United side chasing promotion from the Championship, of a thawing in relations between these two great rivals. There is nothing more Wilder wants than to beat the old enemy in their own backyard.
"They don't want to see us doing well and we aren't cheering them on either," Wilder said, as the countdown to next week's match continues. "If I'm being totally honest, I wasn't sat there desperately wanting them to win when they nearly went up a couple of years ago. I remember dancing around the house when Andy Linighan scored the winning goal against them for Arsenal in the FA Cup final all those years back and mum asking me what the hell was going on. That's just football rivalry, that's the way it is. That's what football rivalry is like and all about."
Wilder has just been appointed when Wednesday, then under Carlos Carvalhal's stewardship, were beaten by Hull City in the 2016 play-off final. Three years on and Bruce, then in charge of the East Yorkshire club, is now preparing for his first Steel City skirmish with United's neighbours. Although there has since been a powershift in the region, with United entering this match in third, Wilder believes the 131st competitive meeting between the clubs will be more keenly contested than their last two contests, when Bruce's predecessor Jos Luhukay adopted an ultra-cautious approach.
"With Steve being in charge, you don't get the success he's had as a manager by sitting under the crossbar," Wilder, noting Bruce's four previous promotions, said. "He's got that success by being positive."
"I'm not going to criticise what they've done in the last two," he continued. "But I honestly think Sheffield Wednesday supporters will want their team to have a go.
"That's what we've done. Going back, even when we weren't at the top of the division, Sheffield United have always gone for the win."
"There are going to be times when we're going to get pushed back and have to come through some difficult moments," he continued. "Equally, we're going to look to push them back and make them face plenty too."
Despite the high stakes, Wilder is adamant United's players will not be cautious or constrained by fear.
"We are not scared of losing," he said. "if we lose, we will have lost for a reason. If the opposition are better than us, or if we make individual mistakes, or are not good on the night. There will be a reason.
"I've heard people say, because of the position we're in, that we're scared of losing and it's wrong. That's not the case at all. We always, like I've said, go in with the same mentality and that's to go all out for the win. That's the attitude we demand here."
With Jack O'Connell and George Baldock returning to training following injury, United face a series of welcome but difficult selection dilemmas given their results in the duo's absence. Kieron Freeman and Martin Cranie both impressed during last month's win over West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, while Chris Basham is pushing for his first start since completing a two match suspension.
Wilder must also choose between Mark Duffy and Kieran Dowell in the attacking midfield role, with the latter scoring the only goal of the game in the Midlands. Gary Madine, on loan from Cardiff City, could also be called into action against his former club.