Chris Wilder is not a great fan of motivational posters.
Snippets of North American wisdom or pictures of gap year travellers staring thoughtfully into the distance are unlikely, he thinks, to help Sheffield United achieve their promotion dream.
But Wilder, who tore down many of the ‘uplifting’ banners commissioned by his predecessor after taking charge in May, did salvage one from the scrap heap. A simple piece of script which perfectly encapsulates the values of this United regime.
“There’s a poster up in our changing room saying what Unitedites want,” Wilder revealed. “A team which gives everything for the shirt. If you are prepared to do that then, allied with ability, it should serve you well. I’ve never thought fans ask for much but, quite rightly, that is something they demand.”
Repairing the fractured relationship between United’s first team squad and its supporters has been one of the most important victories of Wilder’s reign. Indeed, as his side prepares to play two home games over the Christmas period, it could prove even more significant than last month’s 94th minute win over Bury or, after lifting them to second in the League One table, the dramatic triumph at Coventry City a week ago.
Of course, following United since childhood and enjoying two spells at Bramall Lane as a player has given Wilder a headstart in his battle for hearts and minds at Bramall Lane. Unlike Nigel Adkins, who arrived at the club full of bright ideas and good intentions only to depart after 11 miserable months at the helm, the 49-year-old understands what makes the club tick. Nevertheless, despite tapping into its psyche after being appointed manager during the close season, he has attempted to publicly downplay his credentials since being unveiled. Wilder might be a traditionalist when it comes to football but, behind the unvarnished exterior, a razor sharp mind lurks.
“You have to have that connect with the support base,” Wilder said. “If you don’t then I think it’s poor.
“If they can see the players putting the effort in, trying to win games of football, then they’ll get behind you.
“Okay, sometimes, it’s not going to be your afternoon. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that. But what I like is that the players don’t want that to happen. We might think that afterwards, but during the games they clearly don’t want that to be the case. We’re leaving it out there. If it’s good enough, then we’ll get the result. If not, then so be it. At least we’ve given our all.”
“It’s a combination of the players being committed and the supporters seeing that,” he added “We spoke about wanting to make this an intimidating place and hopefully that’s what we’ve done. We should get some really good crowds in over Christmas and we want to given them something to shout about.”
United will attempt to exploit that bond when Oldham Athletic visit South Yorkshire on Boxing Day although, with five days between that match and the New Year’s Eve fixture against Northampton Town, it could be January 2nd’s trip to Bury when Wilder’s players need encouraging the most. Fatigue is likely to be a major factor at Gigg Lane.
With that in mind United, who will now visit Southend on January 7 after their meeting with Fleetwood Town was postponed, could choose to shuffle their options. Centre-forwards Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke will be hoping for recalls after impressing against City. Matt Done started the match as Wilder’s team briefly drew level on points with leaders Scunthorpe but, although he brings balance to an attack which has scored 49 goals in 21 games, has not hit the target since September.
“We take every game on its merits,” Wilder said. “And do what seems best.”