Sheffield United: Blades boss insists the numbers stack up ahead of Yorkshire derby against Leeds United
The question obviously bothered Chris Wilder.
So much so, in fact, that within five minutes of it being posed, he returned with figures proving Sheffield United make more entries into the opposition penalty box than any other Championship club.
The gesture, despite his refusal to contemplate a change of strategy, revealed the level of detail coaching staff employ to ensure possession and performances equal points. Tactics might be tweaked. Team shape slightly altered. But calls to adopt a more direct approach will fall on deaf ears because, Wilder insisted, they are without merit.
“I understand why people would ask it, why they might think we shouldn’t be working the ball around the area,” he said. “Actually, nobody actually gets in there more than us. The way we play has got us this far and, looking at the figures, I’d say it’s what suits us the best.”
Wilder, whose side are eighth in the table ahead of Saturday’s game against Leeds, accepts United’s gameplan will come under scrutiny after winning only five of their last 17 league games. Indeed, speaking at the Steelphalt Academy earlier this week, he described himself as “delighted” by the fact supporters are taking an interest following their apathy towards his predecessor Nigel Adkins. Nevertheless, although he concedes United might have lacked some dynamism in recent weeks, Wilder believes they are victims of their own success rather than a systemic failure.
“The pressure the lads put on teams is pushing them (the opposition) back,” he said. “That means they are getting set, they have to get set, because they can’t get out. So, in that instance, we might have to work the ball around a little bit more and think about it because I don’t just want us to start hitting it aimlessly forward.”
“Still,” Wilder continued, “There’s always things we can do better and that’s something, that final third, we always look at. I respect other people’s opinions and, yes, I listen to them because you never know what you might learn, discover or pick up.”
Wilder’s biggest issue ahead of Leeds’s visit is selection, following the arrival of four new players during last month’s transfer window. Although their presence should be welcomed, Lee Evans in particular has impressed since moving to South Yorkshire, there have been casualties with Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy among those whose places in the starting eleven have come under threat. Simon Moore’s dismissal during last weekend’s defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers has further complicated the issue, with Jamal Blackman still recovering from injury and Jake Eastwood, aged 21, the only fully fit goalkeeper likely to be available.
“I want to have problems like that,” Wilder said. “I don’t ever want picking a side to be easy. Everyone has a part to play and they’ve all got to push, day in day out, but how can you be worse off when you add good players to the ones you’ve already got?”