MANAGER Chris Wilder believes it would be a “dangerous game” to set a points target for Sheffield United to clinch automatic promotion out of League One.
Both the Blades and Yorkshire rivals Bradford City, first and fifth respectively, are chasing a top-two finish this season with 14 games remaining ahead of what could be a pivotal weekend.
United are on course to break the 90-point barrier, averaging two points per game ahead of tomorrow’s top-two showdown with Scunthorpe United, and on current form would end the campaign on 92 points.
The last time United hit the 90 mark – exactly – in the 2011-12 season, they ended up being pipped to automatic promotion by city rivals Wednesday (93 points).
It is a painful memory for Wilder, a lifelong Blades fan who took charge last summer at Bramall Lane.
“I think it’s a dangerous game to set points totals,” said Wilder. “There is the statistical part of it, over the last 10 years, that there is an average that gets you up and an average that gets you second.
“But knowing our history at this football club, knowing what went off six years ago, it would be a dangerous game to play saying we need to reach a points total.
“That (90 points) would have got you up any other year. We need to get as many points as it needs to take you up.
“Until someone says it’s a done deal, then we are in a race with some very good football clubs, some teams that have done great and others who will come late on.”
Bradford, currently eight points adrift of second-placed Scunthorpe, are one of the clubs hoping to gatecrash the top two.
They face third-placed Bolton Wanderers tomorrow at Valley Parade, knowing victory could cut the gap to Phil Parkinson’s side to just three points.
“Sheffield United are up there on merit, Scunthorpe had a couple of hiccups, Bolton as well, but I think everybody has,” said City assistant manager Kenny Black.
“For our pack, Fleetwood, ourselves, Millwall, MK Dons could get into it, Oxford, Southend, Rochdale – I could go on.
“There are probably a lot of teams still fancying themselves to get in there by finishing strong with a bit of momentum.
“We’re all hurting in the dressing room after Tuesday (a 2-1 loss at Fleetwood). It was a game we didn’t deserve to lose, but we did.
“The high-profile games, whether it be Sheff United, Scunthorpe, Bolton, Millwall or Charlton, it doesn’t matter who we are playing this time of the season.
“It will be tense because both camps will be looking to try and get any advantage they can.”
United also face Bolton at Bramall Lane a week tomorrow, meaning the next week could provide a huge statement of intent from the Blades.
Not that Wilder is worrying too much about the chasing pack.
“We are just looking at ourselves,” he insisted. “I am not going to spin it, do we want teams underneath us to win? Of course not.
“When you see someone in third or fourth place getting beat, that’s a bonus. But we have always looked at us, getting our performance right consistently.
“We have conceded daft goals at times, not punished teams, but consistently for a long time now played really decent football.
“On current form we are top from the last 10 games, and you can see a few teams around us are having a little bit of a struggle, form-wise.
“You hear things, how teams below are having a little bit of wobble and out of form, but all we need to concentrate on is ourselves.”
United have seven home games remaining – featuring four of the top six in Scunthorpe, Bolton, Millwall and Bradford – plus visits from Charlton and bottom two Chesterfield and Coventry City.
Wilder is hoping the feel-good factor among home fans at Bramall Lane can help United surge to promotion – starting tomorrow against Scunthorpe.
“It’s a big game for League One – in any division – where top plays second. It’s going to get hype and coverage,” said Wilder.
“We are playing consistently well, and one of the things I wanted to happen is to make sure when we play at home we have everyone on our side and make it – without crossing the line – uncomfortable for the opposition.
“I want our supporters to make it as uncomfortable for the opposition as we have to put up with, week-in, week-out, when we go away from home.
“Get behind your club, the team, it’s a really important period for us. The games coming up, especially at home, are outstanding games of football.
“We have put ourselves in a fantastic position, the players have been different class with the pressure we have played under all season.
“I am delighted with the position we are in, points-wise, position-wise, the way the players are mentally, their confidence going into games, and, most important, the togetherness of the football club.
“I want to make sure it’s a difficult place to come and play, hostile and not nice, loud and aggressive in the right way towards the opposition, without stepping over that line.
“The supporters recognise that they have an unbelievable chance of driving the club forward in the remaining seven home games,” he added.
The return of ex-City boss Parkinson to Valley Parade tomorrow was always going to be a key game for Bantams fans.
Their respective league positions add fuel to the flames.
“There was a big hype surrounding it when we played at Bolton,” said Stuart McCall’s assistant Black.
“But it’s probably more so this time because it’s the first time Phil has come back.
“He’s done a fantastic job in the four or five years he was at Bradford.
“They are a side with a bit of experience about them. They are up there on merit. It doesn’t matter what people say, they’ve got the points.
“They’ve had two or three ropey results, like everybody has in this division, but they will be formidable opponents.”
Additional reporting: Leon Wobschall