He spoke for nearly 45 minutes, tackling subjects ranging from the city’s standing in world football to his upcoming birthday.
But when the conversation turned to injuries during a packed pre-match press conference, Chris Wilder was in no mood to wax lyrical.
“I’m not saying anything about them,” the Sheffield United manager insisted. “Absolutely nothing at all. As soon as the team sheet comes out, that’s when you’ll all know.”
United’s preparations for Sunday’s visit to Sheffield Wednesday have been overshadowed by question marks over the availability of several key players. Although one was removed yesterday, when the Football Association revealed Paul Coutts would face no further action after being cited for an alleged off-the-ball incident during last weekend’s game against Norwich City, captain Billy Sharp, together with fellow centre-forwards Leon Clarke and Clayton Donaldson, are all struggling to declare themselves fit. With Caolan Lavery and James Hanson already ruled-out of the fixture, Wilder could be forced to enter the match with only one recognised striker - Ched Evans - at his disposal. Given that he will shortly require surgery to correct a long-standing ankle problem, United’s coaching staff are understandably reluctant to name their squad until the last possible moment.
“I’m keeping my cards close to my chest,” Wilder continued. “And I make no apologies for that, I’m sure everyone appreciates where we’re coming from.
“We are frustrated, yes, because we want to be at full-strength. Especially up top. We’ll have to see where we’re at.”
Despite those concerns, United have made an encouraging start to the new Championship season after lifting the League One title last term. Sixth in the table following Saturday’s narrow defeat by Norwich, they nevertheless remain sixth in the table after taking maximum points from their last two away games.
“Whatever team we put out, we will be going there for a win,” Wilder said. “That’s the way we are and it’s not going to change now. We don’t like losing but, if you do have to lose, then I think there’s a way to lose and that’s what happened last time out.”
“We can come into this one with our heads held high,” he added. “The boys are in good spirits, they will travel with confidence. The thing about this group is that they’re fighters, they’ll never give up and they’ll dig in for each other. I thought you saw that (against Norwich) when they got applauded off the pitch. Yes, there were things we could have done better but, basically, we dominated a team that’s established in the Championship in terms of possession and pressure for 90 odd minutes.”
Sharp, like Wilder a lifelong United supporter, has scored exactly half of his team’s goals in the competition so far this season.
“I know why people want to talk about it,” Wilder said, in response to a question about their strong links with the club. “But take me and Billy out of it. It’s not about us, it’s about the team as a whole, about the squad as a whole. Those are the things, together with the fans, which are important.”
Wilder, who turns 50 on Saturday, added: “There’s only one big occasion this weekend and that’s the derby. These are the game we want to be involved in. It’s why we worked so hard to come up.”