Richie Wellens has stoked up the South Yorkshire derby fires by claiming Sheffield United are “under-achieving”.
The Doncaster Rovers midfielder – speaking ahead of today’s League One encounter between the two sides at the Keepmoat Stadium – claims Nigel Clough’s Blades have the biggest budget in the division and should be competing with Bristol City at the top of the table.
Instead, United – without a win or a goal in their last three matches – sit 10 points behind leaders Bristol City, although only goal difference keeps them in eighth spot and outside the play-off zone.
In comparison, Rovers are 17th, lagging eight points behind after relegation from the Championship last term.
“For the size of the club, they have a good manager, they should be doing better,” said 34-year-oid Wellens. “They should probably be up there with Bristol City.
“They have the biggest budget in the league. The size of the club is huge, easily a Championship club.
“I would imagine if you ask their players that they are a little bit disappointed where they are.
“They are a Championship/Premier League club in mid-table of League One, so they are definitely under-achieving.”
Wellens is in his second spell with Rovers, and hopes a bumper Keepmoat crowd can help Paul Dickov’s men build on their last two league games, which saw them beat Bradford City and draw with MK Dons.
“Sheffield United is a big club, both Sheffield clubs have tremendous fans. They will probably bring 4,000-5,000 fans here, that will help the atmosphere,” said Wellens, who watched United lose to Walsall in midweek in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
“I watched United against Walsall and didn’t think it was very good, to be honest.
“They will obviously change four or five players for Saturday.”
Despite sitting in the wrong half of the table, Wellens insists Doncaster still have play-off aspirations.
With 10 games to be packed in before the end of December, Wellens believes Rovers need to win today to help kick-start a good run.
“Saturday is a big start, because we are eight points behind Sheffield United,” he said. “If they win we will be 11 points behind, and that will be tough to catch them.
“But if we win, and with a game in hand, then it shortens the gap.
“If we are going to make the top six, we need to start making a move. We have got so many games coming up quickly, it gives us a chance to catch up quickly.”
The two managers, Dickov and Clough, are former team-mates from their Manchester City days, while Dickov also played under Clough at Derby County.
Dickov was at the Bescot Stadium on Tuesday to see United lose 1-0, but expects a much-changed Blades team to start today.
In their last three games, United lost to Barnsley at Bramall Lane in the league, were held 0-0 in the FA Cup at Crewe, before being dumped out of the JPT by Walsall.
“We know it will be a tough game, they have not won in three games, but their performances have been decent,” stressed Dickov.
“They have some good players going forward; Jamie Murphy, a player I know really well, Jose Baxter, Stefan Scougall, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who has a lot of pace.
“We know defensively we will have to be very sound to stand a chance of getting anything from the game.”
Unlike Wellens, Dickov believes Blades manager Clough will be satisfied with their start to the campaign.
“I think Nigel will be reasonably happy with where they are at the minute,” he said. “He’s an ex-team-mate of mine, a former manager of mine, and we came through all our coaching badges together.
“He’s somebody I know really well, and he will be the first to say nothing is won in November.”
Doncaster go into the game having not played for a fortnight, after a wasted trip to Weston-super-Mare last Saturday.
The FA Cup tie was only called off half-an-hour before the game, to the disappointment of Wellens and his team-mates. The re-arranged game will take place next Tuesday.
“It was frustrating. It was a bit of a joke really,” said Wellens. “The referee should have made a decision earlier. The pitch was only going to get worse from 8.30am.
“I thought the match should have been on, didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. There was a small area which was a bit of a problem.
“I have played in six inches of snow at Ipswich, didn’t get called off, played at Charlton last season – which was way worse than that,” he said.
“It was the FA Cup; let’s play, roll about in the mud, tackle. That’s what the FA Cup is all about.”
England Under-21 goalkeeper Sam Johnstone will play today, after being released from international duty.
But Rovers are sweating on the return of defender Luke McCullough, the 20-year-old Northern Ireland international, who was in Romania last night for a Euro 16 qualifier.
The centre-half was an unused substitute for the Irish and is due to fly back to England this morning, and Rovers will assess his fitness before naming their starting line-up.
His return would resolve a defensive headache for Dickov, who is without experienced centre-half Paul Butler, who misses out under the terms of his loan deal from the Blades.
Dickov admitted: “That’s a loss because he has been excellent.
“ It’s not come as a surprise because we knew when we signed Andy that would be the case.
“It’s something we have prepared for, and worked on,” he added.