Character, not calibre, will decide whether or not Sheffield United qualify for the end of season play-offs, Alan Knill has insisted, ahead of Tuesday’s visit to Fulham.
Knill, the South Yorkshire club’s assistant manager, used the difference in approach between last week’s defeat at Hull City and Tuesday’s win over Reading to underline his point.
Insisting the fact United are still in contention proves they have the skill set required, Knill said: “The thing we are looking for most of all is attitude; the desire to work hard and run around. We play with an intensity.
“When we play with that, that’s when we are at our best. It helps you find a way. I thought we were excellent the other night (at the Madejski Stadium) and the difference to the match before was stark.”
United climbed to sixth in the Championship table when they beat Jaap Stam’s side 3-1 thanks to goals from Billy Sharp (2) and Mark Duffy.
But with the hosts battling against relegation, Chris Wilder, Knill and head of sports science Matt Prestridge were encouraged as much by the performance as they were the final result. Unlike at the KCOM Stadium four days earlier, United imposed themselves on the opening exchanges and quickly established a healthy lead before Sharp completed his brace following Omar Richards’ effort.
With Fulham known for the quality of their football and prowess in the final third, Wilder knows another fast start is vital at Craven Cottage; if only to prevent Fulham discovering their rhythm.
“There’s lots of teams around us who, if we drop our intensity, will catch us,” Knill continued. “Full credit to Hull, they did that the other week. That’s what happens when you aren’t at your best.
“But we bounced back and showed what we are properly about last time. And that was important, if only to remind and show people what is required.”
United received a reminder themselves when Wilder chose to castigate his team following an uncharacteristically subdued display in East Yorkshire. Although the ferocity of his words took some by surprise - “I must be away with the fairies if I think we can get in the top six. Maybe we’ve maxed out with this group?” - Knill became the latest person associated with the first team squad to defend the manager’s actions. Sharp and Duffy also insisted he had “every right” to make his displeasure known either side of the trip to Berkshire.
“We’ve set our standards high here,” Knill said. “So when you fall below that, all of us, it’s only right you get told.”