At both the beginning of this season and the end of the last, it was not uncommon to see Sheffield United finish a match with three or four strikers on the pitch irrespective of the scoreline.
But as last term’s League One title-winners continue their push for the Championship play-offs, Chris Wilder has revealed why draws and defeats, not runaway victories, could help them achieve back to back promotions.
Despite claiming it would be a mistake to completely abandon his attacking principles, the United manager acknowledged Bramall Lane’s first team squad became more tactically astute after experiencing a downturn in results earlier this year.
“We won’t change our approach, even in tight games, we’ll always go for wins,” Wilder said. “But when we do the hard work and get our noses in front, we’ve got to be professional and see games out. We’ve got to do what other teams have been doing to us in the past.”
United showcased their new-found maturity during the closing stages of Tuesday’s meeting with Queens Park Rangers who, after trailing 2-0 with less than half-an-hour remaining, ensured the contest went right down to the wire when Luke Freeman scored.
Although Wilder’s men eventually claimed all three points - climbing to seventh in the table ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Hull City - he acknowledged: “It’s about being structured. And yes, we’ve maybe changed a bit. If we are up in the last few minutes, maybe we won’t go quite as gung-ho.
“When the game becomes open, we feel we’ve got good players who can hurt teams. But when teams take a risk on us, we’ve got to be more professional on the counter.”
Richard Stearman and John Lundstram were both on target against Ian Holloway’s side but the latter, despite hearing Wilder describe his contribution as “excellent”, could start on the bench at the KCOM Stadium as John Fleck returns from suspension. However, regardless of who they select, United’s coaching staff believe Lundstram and Fleck, together with fellow midfielders Ryan Leonard and Lee Evans, possess the skills required to score more goals.
“Ryan coming on gave us something,” Wilder reflecting upon events against QPR, said. “In that period of the game we started winning some first and second balls more. We look at Evo, he can score, he’s got good technical ability. John has got good technical ability too.
“He’s put some shifts in. To play in that position, you have to be disciplined and run some miles. I thought he played really well.”
“The experience of this division is key,” he added. “That helps you make the right decisions. The players are learning and we are learning too.”