Aston Villa v Sheffield United: Blades staying humble even as top spot beckons

On the up: Oliver Norwood, left, celebrates scoring for Sheffield United in their impreesive victory over Aston Villa at Bramall Lane back in September. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
On the up: Oliver Norwood, left, celebrates scoring for Sheffield United in their impreesive victory over Aston Villa at Bramall Lane back in September. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
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Sheffield United’s reputation as being one of the most stylish footballing sides in the Championship precedes them in these heady times for the club.

Sure and confident in their abilities on the ball they may be – and with a discernible hint of swagger at their best – refreshingly it has not arrived at the expense of the club’s grace and manners off it. Apart from on one infamous occasion.

This came in the reverse fixture between tonight’s rivals at Bramall Lane on September 1.

Rather than bask in the glow of his side’s outstanding 4-1 victory over Aston Villa following the game, Blades manager Chris Wilder chose to castigate the club’s stadium announcer publicly and apologised profusely to his then opposite number Steve Bruce and Aston Villa after what he perceived to be an “unacceptable” comment made over the tannoy system.

It arrived just before half-time when the dominant Blades were leading 3-0 with announcer Gary Sinclair announcing on the PA system that there were “unfortunately” only two minutes of stoppage time.

The moment saw United’s standards briefly drop in Wilder’s eyes and he was onto it in a flash afterwards. It was a lesson to all and sundry.

Billy Sharp of Sheffield Utd celebrates scoring the fourth goal against Aston Villa in September (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Billy Sharp of Sheffield Utd celebrates scoring the fourth goal against Aston Villa in September (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Given his upbringing in football it should perhaps come as no surprise that the Blades’ chief puts great stock in his squad, coaching staff and ‘his’ club remaining humble and remembering where they have come from.

Should United’s evolution continue with a victory at Villa Park tonight, which would move them to the top of the table, they will not be shouting it from the rooftops. Perish the thought.

Making bold predictions can be a dangerous game in the capricious Championship. But if there is one thing that can be taken as read it is that the Blades will not get ahead of themselves between now and season’s end.

Speaking ahead of tonight’s televised game in the Midlands, Wilder said: “That (humbleness) has always been in me as a player and, going back to those at this football club, the successful sides have never had that feeling over anyone else.

Our upbringing, as players and staff, means we always keep our feet on the ground.

Chris Wilder

“Possibly the worst periods have been when there has been that arrogance. Our upbringing, as players and staff, means we always keep our feet on the ground.

“We know we have got to work hard for anything we get.

“We are no minnow of a club either, but we are in a tough division.”

Wilder is also promising another thing ahead of a potentially pivotal final third of the season –that his side will stay true to their attacking instincts.

Chris Wilder was angered by a stadium announcement during the Blades' rout of Aston Villa in September (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

Chris Wilder was angered by a stadium announcement during the Blades' rout of Aston Villa in September (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)

It points to a playing and coaching staff who are comfortable in their own skin, with three eye-catching offensive performances in their last three second-tier matches against Villa bearing further testament to that.

As it stands only Leeds – with 17 wins – have won more Championship games than the Blades in 2018-19 and the rewards of a win tonight are self-evident to everyone connected with the club.

With ninth-placed Villa currently four points behind the team occupying the final play-off position in Bristol City – having played a game more – the Midlands club are also likely to adopt a risk-and-reward strategy in their pursuit of victory.

Wilder observed: “I know we have got weaknesses that other teams will try and exploit, the same as them.

“Both teams will go for a win. I do not think their manager, players and, more importantly, their supporters will accept them sitting on the edge of the box playing counter-attacking football.

“I think it will be end to end, so possibly it could come down to who is more clinical in both boxes.”

Another thing can be taken as read ahead of this evening’s intriguing contest.

Should the Blades come close to the heights that they reached in their sublime 4-1 win against Villa at Bramall Lane then Wilder is likely to possess a strong feeling of satisfaction come the final whistle. An inward one, mind.

But almost five-and-a-half months on Wilder says the events of that day will hold no resonance for tonight’s meeting.

He said: “You have days like that. That was not a week-in, week-out performance. You wish for that and you dream for that. You take great pride in it.

“They had an off day, we caught them at the right time, but we still had to play very well. It was eights and nines all the way through the team.

“People will have great memories of it, but we get no advantage now because of the change of manager and change of venue.

“It is difficult when you change a manager mid-season, but they have still got a chance to push and have good players. Villa could jump out of the pack, easily”

Last six games: Aston Villa DLLDWD Sheffield United WLWLDW.

Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).

Last time: Aston Villa 2 Sheffield United 2; December 23, 2017; Championship.