It was probably no coincidence that, moments after describing his team as promotion contenders, Chris Wilder began to outline his plans for the January transfer window.
But the Sheffield United manager, finally dropping the pretence that Premier League football is a distant rather than immediate target, acknowledged what happens during the New Year sales will decide whether they remain in the chase or fall by the wayside.
“The period up to Christmas, you want to get yourself in a good position,” Wilder said. “We can’t deny we are in the mix. “Whether we are strong enough come January and February, we’ll see. They’ll be a lot of activity in the division in January given the size of the prize on offer. Hopefully, at whatever level, there will be here too. For us to be in the mix, we have to strengthen in January, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Although Wilder has the utmost respect for Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, both in public and privately, his decision to address recruitment five weeks before the window opens represents an attempt to apply some soft pressure on United’s co-owners. Third in the table, a point behind second-placed Cardiff City and seven ahead of Middlesbrough in sixth, Wilder and his coaching staff sense a team which conquered League One last season has a wonderful opportunity to secure back-to-back promotions. Providing, of course, they repair some of the cracks which have appeared within their squad.
Paul Coutts’ fractured tibia has not only robbed United of arguably their most influential midfielder, but left them desperately short of cover should either John Lundstram or the more attack-minded Samir Carruthers also break down. Despite the goalscoring exploits of Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp, a vacancy still exists for an attacker with genuine pace following the collapse of deals for Fleetwood Town’s Devante Cole and Jerome Sinclair of Watford last summer. Steelphalt Academy graduates Ben Whiteman and Regan Slater are both capable of bolstering Wilder’s options but, given the way the division is unfolding, United’s coaching staff must also take care of the short as well as medium and long term.
“In terms of figures and numbers, whether it’s money we’ve made, whether it’s historic agreements, how much there is is left totally to the owners,” Wilder, whose side host Birmingham City today, said. “That’s their area of how they want to take the club forward.
“They know better than me. I’ve said we’d like to bring three or four players in and maybe two or three will go. We’ll keep the numbers the same but up the quality in certain areas. The quality of player we bring in is up to them.”
“I think we’re the 19th or 20th highest (budget) in the division,” he added. The money we’ve brought in whether it’s historic sell-ons or deals we’ve done, I think we’re in a healthy position. “That’s not chucking the owners under a bus. “Kevin has put a lot of money in over the years. I’ll never criticise what they do because it costs a lot of money to run a Championship football club, any football club. It’s not a cheap hobby. It does cost money. I respect what I get.”
United enter their meeting with City hoping to avoid a second successive home defeat after being beaten 5-4 by Fulham in midweek.
“We all have our ideas about what we want to do and the prize that’s ahead of us,” Wilder said. “We’re in a position, we’re in the race and there’s no getting away from that. Everyone you speak to, the manager on Tuesday night, complimented us and thought we were a strong Championship side. We have to keep that going.”