It was midway through the second-half of Tuesday’s match at Fulham when Chris Wilder realised he has a special group of players.
Three goals down and heading towards defeat, the Sheffield United manager’s disappointment was tinged with pride as he watched them refuse to throw-in the towel.
To some extent, against opponents boasting a £13m centre-forward in arguably the best form of his career, their late show of resistance was completely futile. But the fact his team kept on going, kept on trying to avoid the inevitable, confirmed Wilder’s suspicions about its character.
“You could see they wanted to get up the pitch in the last 25 minutes,” he said. “You could see they wanted to press quality players. (Mark) Duffy is running around and trying to leave a little bit on people and others were too. That was good, I thought that was really good. I enjoyed seeing that.”
Wilder will demand the same approach during today’s game against Ipswich Town. But, given the fixture’s importance, much more positive result. United travel to Suffolk ninth in the table and knowing that victory could see them move back into the Championship’s top six with a game in hand.
Although he was keen to draw a line under their midweek visit to London, not to mention avoid giving the opposition extra motivation, Wilder believes this afternoon’s outing at Portman Road is the first in a series of more winnable games given the depth of talent, including Aleksander Mitrovic, at Fulham’s disposal.
“I’m not being disrespectful to any of the other teams, but the really technical sides who can cut you open, like Fulham and Wolves, we’ve seen the back of them now,” he said. “We’ve got to dust ourselves down and get back on track. Get back out there and try to go on a run.”
Nevertheless, despite beating them twice already this term - once in the league at Bramall Lane before January’s triumph in the FA Cup - Wilder warned Mick McCarthy’s side are equipped to test United’s play-off credentials.
“People look at the table, they look at the positions, and think if someone is above someone else then they’re almost certain to win,” he said. “But it doesn’t work like that, it never works like that and especially not at this stage of the season.”
“We’re new in this division and they (Ipswich) are established,” Wilder added. “They’ve got damn good players and a damn good manager. Yes, you’ve got to be respectful of that and we are. But we’ll also be going down there trying to cause them problems. And I think we can.
“We’re always mindful of who we are facing but, at the same time, we always try and accentuate our own strengths.”
With Leon Clarke (hamstring) and James Wilson (ankle) scheduled to undergo fitness tests last night, Wilder, who usually names his starting eleven on Thursday afternoons, could delay making his final selection call until this morning. But David Brooks and Ricky Holmes, who both featured as substitutes in the capital, are expected to be available.
“It’s good that we’ve got them,” Wilder said. “They’re both good players, very good players, and we’re at an important stage now. We’ve worked hard to get into this position, to make sure we are in the mix at the business end, and so we want that competition. They both bring something a little bit different to the table.”