Having plunged his size nines into Bramall Lane’s boardroom politics, Chris Wilder is now trying to focus purely on football.
Specifically, the Sheffield United manager admitted, this weekend’s visit to Bristol City. The final match of a season which, despite failing to deliver a play-off place, has still been memorable.
“We want to go out on a high,” he said. “Because that, I think, would be the most fitting thing to do. The support we’ve had has been nothing short of fantastic. And to take it to the 45th game was a great achievement from a team that, when you look at what’s being spent elsewhere, people kept insisting should never have even been in the picture.”
Wilder was referring to United’s push for a top six finish which, after being badly wounded by a defeat at Birmingham City, was dealt a fatal blow by Preston North End four days ago. The meeting with Alex Neil’s side, which finished 1-0 in the opposition’s favour, revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of this United squad. Chances were created. Chances were missed. But Wilder, who delivered the League One title last term, insisted that profligate streak must not overshadow the progress they have made.
“I told the players after the game that we’ve come a hell of a long way in the last two years,” he continued. “We’ve raised expectations with some excellent performances and results. Yes, it’s tailed away in the end which of course is disappointing. But I think we’ve given the fans something to look forward to every Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon. The connection between the players and the supporters, in recent seasons, is superb.”
Wilder used his post-match media conference following the meeting with Preston to call upon HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his fellow co-owner Kevin McCabe to swiftly resolve their battle for sole control. But the 50-year-old also spoke about how, despite having one of the smallest budgets in the division, United had thrust themselves into promotion contention.
“The lads have always attacked it,” Wilder said. “If you look at the figures, we really should have been nowhere near it. But they’ve not been bothered by reputation, the names ion the back of the shirt or anything like that. They’ve gone out there, given their all and shown that they are good players too.”
United, now 11th in the table, were beaten 2-1 when City travelled to South Yorkshire in December. John Fleck, who was controversially dismissed early in the second-half, is expected to feature at Ashton Gate.
“Every time you pull on a red and white shirt,” Wilder said, “Something is at stake.”