Sheffield United: '˜Every game matters when you wear the red and white stripes' says Chris Wilder
The question was designed to discover where the FA Cup sits on Sheffield United's list of priorities this season.
But the answer, accompanied by a long-hard stare and delivered in deadly serious tone, also revealed plenty about the uncompromising approach which has seen Chris Wilder transform his boyhood club’s fortunes.
“I think I’d get lynched if I said any game when someone pulls a red and white shirt on isn’t important,” the United manager said. “Because it is, no matter when, where or whatever the occasion.
“You’ve seen me, even in a few pre-season friendlies, demand that. That’s just in me and even more so when this club is involved. I get excited watching any of our club’s games. I get excited watching the under-18’s and under-23’s, I want them all to do well. Behind closed doors matches are the same, we want to do well. That’s in you, that’s the competitive aspect.”
Wilder, a lifelong United supporter and former player, has enjoyed remarkable success since being appointed 20 months ago. With a League One title and numerous Championship scalps already in the bag, he now wants to reach the later stages of a competition some folk, failing to understand his character, claimed the 50-year-old viewed as a distraction from the real matter in hand.
“I didn’t see Mick McCarthy wanting to go out the back door three weeks ago,” Wilder, reflecting on United’s third round victory over Ipswich Town, continued. “I don’t think you have a career like his, or a career of any sorts in professional football, unless you are ultra competitive.
“When I go for a cup of tea in the canteen, I want to smash Paul Coutts all over the pool table. I’ve got a group of lads who are competitive. The last round, it wasn’t the most glamorous of games but we took a great following down the road and the scenes at the end told me my players have got the same feel for the club as myself, my staff and the supporters.”
Although Coutts (broken leg), together with Kieron Freeman (knee) and David Brooks (glandular fever), will miss this afternoon’s fourth round tie against Preston North End, centre-forwards Billy Sharp and Ched Evans could feature alongside the likes of John Fleck, Regan Slater and Clayton Donaldson. The visitors, who beat United at Deepdale earlier this term, received clearance to select Jordan Hugill (head) before leaving for South Yorkshire but Ben Davies (hamstring) is a doubt.
With United sixth in the table ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Aston Villa, Wilder said: “This won’t be live on TV but from my point of view, there’s an opportunity to get into the fifth round and we’ll take on board another game gladly. We’ve been in good form and we want that to carry on.
“Possibly, I’d get rid of replays. But then you look at it and go, ‘if we draw Manchester United and draw at home, would we want to go to Old Trafford for the game?’ Ideally, we want to see a home win but if it has to take us two games to go through, so be it.”