Sheffield United know exactly what can happen when people tasked with leading a football club are singing from a hundred different hymn sheets instead of simply one.
Seven years ago, despite a significant wage bill and transfer budget, they were relegated from the Championship after employing three different managers less than 12 months.
It took six attempts and the appointment of Chris Wilder to drag them out of the third tier. Birmingham City, who face his side at St Andrews tomorrow afternoon, are teetering on the brink of a similar crisis. The causes of which should encourage United’s co-owners, who are battling for sole control of Bramall Lane, to resolve their dispute as quickly as possible.
“They brought in some big, big players,” Wilder, assessing City’s squad, said. “Jota, Harelee Dean from Brentford are just two.
“But reputations count for nothing. Signing players for big numbers doesn’t do it, you’ve got to pull them together as a team. But on the flip side, they have got talented players and have tightened themselves up. I think, on their day and when they say ‘yes’, Birmingham City can beat the majority of teams in this division.”
City have a wealth of talent at their disposal. The trouble is, after sacking Harry Redknapp at the beginning of the season before also parting company with his successor Steve Cotterill, the squad which sits only a place above the relegation zone has been pieced together by umpteen different managers. Garry Monk, the latest person charged with trying to mould it into a functioning unit, has enjoyed a degree of success since being unveiled last month. But, after winning three of his first five matches, City enter today’s game following back to back defeats. To make matters worse, two players they allowed to leave - Mark Duffy and Clayton Donaldson - are now helping United’s top six push.
“Mark’s done well and Clayton has done well too,” Wilder, who signed the latter for £50,000 in August, said. “He came out of there for a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop. At the time, I was speaking to Harry and there were all sorts of weird and wonderful players turning up at his door. I can imagine, because of the players they did bring in, nobody would have expected to see them where they are.”
United, like City, enter the game desperate for a win. But, three points behind the play-off positions with three games remaining, for different reasons.
“There are some huge clubs in this division in trouble,” Wilder, previously of Northampton Town, said. “I’ve experienced being down the bottom and it’s horrible. Really, it’s horrible. People say there’s a pressure on us but it’s only what we’ve put on ourselves. And you want to be playing in big games. It’s a big period for this club as it is for others.”
“You never know what we might need,” he added. “But we’ve got to win a couple of games, definitely.
“You would expect those above us to win a couple but who knows until the results come through? We want to take it to the wire, we want to take it to the final day.”