SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Chris Wilder believes his players delivered an “up yours” gesture to the doubters by reclaiming control of the race for the Premier League.
The Blades’ 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest proved enough to wrestle back possession of second place from Leeds United, who suffered a shock home defeat to ten-man Wigan Athletic.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side now trail their Bramall Lane rivals on goal difference with just three games to play.
For Wilder, a return to the Championship’s automatic promotion places was vindication of his belief in a team who had been written off in some quarters following back-to-back draws against Birmingham City and Millwall.
“To get a result like this is satisfying,” said the 51-year-old to The Yorkshire Post after second-half goals from Mark Duffy and Enda Stevens were enough to beat a Forest side reduced to ten men by the dismissal of Yohan Benalouane.
“It was good to get back to winning ways. It was devastating last week (after being pegged back by Millwall in stoppage time) but the players have been fired up this week. There has been a quiet steel and a little bit of ‘up yours’ this week. That was there in the dressing room.”
There has been a quiet steel and a little bit of ‘up yours’ this week. That was there in the dressing room.Chris Wilder
Wilder’s elation at returning to not only winning ways but also the top two was in stark contrast to the downcast mood of Bielsa after his side had suffered a shock home defeat.
Pablo Hernandez missed a first-half penalty after Cedric Kipre had been dismissed for handling a Patrick Bamford shot on the line.
But Leeds were unable to take advantage of their numerical superiority as goals in each half from Gavin Massey clinched a 2-1 victory for Wigan that worsened the plight of third-bottom Rotherham United, beaten 4-3 at Swansea City.
The Argentinian has a big job to lift a group of players who looked visibly shattered at the final whistle yesterday after running out of ideas against the disciplined visitors from Lancashire.
“Any explanation that I can give (about this defeat) would be meaningless,” said Bielsa.
“The result tells a lot about me and seriously condemns my work.
“The players have the duty to give everything and to be ambitious. When you have these ingredients – ambition, effort and commitment – and you do not get what you are looking for, it is not the responsibility of the players. It is the responsibility of the head coach.”
Leeds, who trail the Blades by six goals with the two clubs locked together on 82 points, head to Griffin Park for an Easter Monday clash that will be shown live by Sky Sports.
Wilder’s United, meanwhile, are at Hull City earlier in the afternoon. Victory over the Tigers will pile further pressure on Leeds.
“With the games we have to play, they are going to be a lot more difficult,” said Bielsa, whose side finish the regular season with a home game against Aston Villa and a trip to Ipswich Town on May 5. “If we do not get promoted, if we can’t get promoted, it will not be a season to be remembered. That is not because we have the obligation to get promotion but because we arrived at this moment with all the conditions to get promoted.
“We lost our ranking (second place) and the games we are going to play are going to be a lot more demanding than the ones we have played so far.”
After tackling Hull on Easter Monday, the Blades host Ipswich before bringing the curtain down on their season at Stoke City.
“There is still a bit of football to be played,” added Wilder, who feels certain sections of the national media have been guilty of writing his side off in favour of Leeds.
“When the season is finished or when it has been mathematically decided, that is the time to hand out the plaudits and say, ‘They have been the best team and they deserve to go up’.
“But our win moved us up to second. So it isn’t done yet, is it?
Match reports: Pages 2-4.