Sheffield United v Bolton: Record haul beckons for Blades

MANAGER Chris Wilder wants to finish 2017 on a high at Sheffield United '“ and smash the club record for the highest number of points won in a calendar year.

George Baldock: Back among the goals for Blades. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The current record stands at 93, set in 1989 when back-to-back promotions took the Blades to the top flight.

Under Wilder, United are currently on 91 points heading into their final game of 2017, today’s visit to Bramall Lane of Bolton Wanderers.

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“It would cap off a fantastic calendar year for us, there’s an opportunity to break a little record,” said Wilder.

“But first and foremost we want to back up an excellent result against Sunderland with another one against Bolton.

“The aim is to just win another game then we can reflect afterwards. We know what an outstanding year it’s been for everybody, and the memories we have all got, the experiences we have had.

“And we want more. We want to drive on. We can be satisfied with our calendar year, but we want to go into 2018 in good nick. Another three points would certainly help.”

The transformation at Bramall Lane under Wilder’s stewardship has been amazing.

After years of struggling to escape League One, Wilder – a lifelong Blades fan and former player – guided United to the league title with a 100-point haul before consolidating their top-six spot in the Championship.

“I think the whole attitude and atmosphere around the club – and the city – has changed towards this football team and group of players,” said Wilder.

“In that there have been memorable moments, from the start of the new year right the way through to Tuesday.

“It has been littered with great moments and fantastic days. I just think the atmosphere around the club is positive, we have changed that.

“The attitude of the supporters towards their team is positive, and I am delighted with that.

“The whole club has been put back on the footballing map, in terms of what we have done over the last 12 months.

“The minimum expectation for 2018 is to keep it going and move forward, progress the football club.

“We have moved the club forward – on and off the pitch – over the last 18 months.

“We want to break the record because that means we have got another three points on to our total. That’s the main target.

“I think you are short-changing yourself as a professional – and the punters – if you don’t (try to break records). You can’t turn attitudes on and off like a light switch.

“I want my players in 15 or 20 years’ time, when they are looking back, to see the year they have had at this football club.

“I want people recognising that, too, because that means they have played well, been successful as a group of players.

“Obviously there’s a bigger ambition for the club to strive on, whether it’s this year or the next few years, it all equates to winning games of football.”

United would have broken the 93-point record earlier this month, but for a six-game winless streak.

This ended on Boxing Day with a 3-0 victory over Sunderland, thanks to goals from John Lundstram, George Baldock and Richard Stearman.

It was Baldock’s first goal in two years – his last also came on Boxing Day, in 2015, in a 3-0 win for Oxford over Exeter, when then team-mate Lundstram also netted.

“I was delighted to score and now I just can’t wait to get back out there,” said wing-back Baldock.

“It’s magic at Christmas, isn’t it? I don’t want to wait another year to score.

“I need to work on the celebration, though. We do lots of work with the gaffer, getting into those positions and, hopefully, that was the reward.

“If teams do sit back then we’ve got a few little magicians up top to unlock them; there’s Lunny, Flecky (John Fleck), who is available again now if he plays, and Duffs (Mark Duffy), who I thought was superb last time out.

“It was really important to put on a show in front of a packed Bramall Lane.

“The fans turned out and have been different class.

“We wanted to prove we are back to our best, playing free-flowing football. The lads were just excited to get back out there and put things right.

“It’s a fine line between playing well and getting the three points. So, to do both was obviously good and pleasing.”

Defeats to Fulham, Millwall, Bristol City and Preston – coupled with draws against Birmingham City and Aston Villa – had taken the wind out of United’s flying start to life back in the Championship.

But Baldock insists a run of two points from a possible 18 did not reflect United’s performances.

“Consistency is important,” said the 24-year-old. “We like to think we’re back in the groove after a tough period. To be honest, I never thought we were particularly out of it. It was only Preston, I reckon, where we were way off what we can do.

“We’re a confident bunch of lads. Whatever anyone else thought or was saying at the start of the season, we always felt we could challenge for something.

“So we’ve got to try and keep pushing on and keep trying to get better. That, always looking to improve, is really important.

“I knew the potential of this club before I signed. I knew I was coming to a club with aspirations of going up.

“Everyone knows Sheffield United isn’t a club that’s just happy to consolidate a place in the Championship. That’s not how it works here.”

Blades striker Leon Clarke – the 32-year-old is the Championship’s leading scorer – has signed a new contract to keep him at Bramall Lane until the summer of 2020.

Wilder said: “Leon is a crucial member of the squad, who has enjoyed a tremendous campaign to date.

“We have been consistent in rewarding players who have impressed with new contracts and it’s easy to see Leon fits into that category.”