Chris Wilder desperate to pick Sheffield United up off the canvas

It was a fitting image from last weekend, perhaps the season – Chris Wilder, squatting on the Bramall Lane touchline, dropping his head in despair as Jamie Vardy’s injury-time goal denied Sheffield United only their second Premier League point of the season.

Chris Wilder of Sheffield United (Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage)
Chris Wilder of Sheffield United (Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage)

That was five days ago. At Southampton on Sunday, the Blades manager will be off the canvas ready to start throwing punches again. He expects the same of his players. Covid-19 has stopped team-bonding exercises but not the spirit which saw them confound the odds last season.

Wilder is doing his best to stay positive after one point from 11 matches – form few recover from. With Wilder, realism is never far away either, and he knows the hard-luck stories must end soon.

“It’s gone on far too long,” he admits of a winless run stretching back to the final three matches of last season. 
“The stats will come out about (it being) one of the worst if not the worst start to the Premier League but there are examples of teams going on runs of 14, 15 games without a win (and surviving) so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. But we all understand it can’t just be left to the last 15 games. We’ve got to start picking up results leading to the new year.

Chris Wilder has not overseen a Premier League victory yet this season (Picture: PA)

“We haven’t been good enough as a group. That’s something we have to accept but we have to keep upbeat.

“I should imagine people looked at my body language in the 90th minute (on Sunday). I think I’m allowed for the first time this season to look quite down and frustrated.

“I have to get off the canvas.

“There’s been many messages of support not just from around Sheffield and Sheffield United supporters but nationwide from people in football. You have to reset and go again.

“There’s been a lot of times where we’ve been okay and competed but it’s the Premier League, it’s not just about competing, the players and myself have to deliver better.”

Centre-forward Oli McBurnie showed the way, scoring his first goal this season to quickly equalise Ayoze Perez’s opener in what was ultimately a 2-1 defeat.

“There’s big pressure on all of us, especially at the top of the pitch,” says Wilder. “People talk about xGs (expected goals statistics) and even through my eyes we should have scored more. That’s the pressure the players at the top of the pitch have to handle.

“It was a man’s performance from Oli. Everybody was delighted he got his goal. He knows he should have had more as we all should but I believe in him and the group and if we can add in January, that would be great.

“It’s a very privileged position but the sun’s not shining at the moment and that’s when you get judged. Oli’s fighting out of it.”

Wilder would have liked to have taken his players away to build team spirit, but has been able to stoke them with predictions of relegation, like those they ridiculed on the field last season.

“We would have done something different but it isn’t to be and there’s a lot of people in much tougher circumstances so we have to overcome it like anyone else,” he says.

“There’s no cracks in terms of attitude and spirit. They’re a little bit edgy with each other, which I expect them to be.

“You use whatever you can but whatever you use, you’ve got to deliver. You can stick what people have said about you all over the training ground or put stats up but you’ve got to find a way as an individual to turn in performances that give you an opportunity to win games of football.”

Ethan Ampadu, Enda Stevens and Lys Mousset have all returned to training after injury, and will be assessed before Wilder picks his team for the noon kick-off.

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