AS managers whose working-class roots are worn as a badge of honour it should come as no surprise that Chris Wilder and Tony Pulis share plenty of common ground.
These men of steel, one from Stocksbridge and the other from Newport, forged their playing careers on the hard, street-wise, lower-league circuit where few passengers are carried.
After turning to management the pair have paid their dues too.
Down-to-earth, straight-talking individuals with whom supporters of both their respective clubs would be happy to share a pint, Wilder and Pulis pit their wits against each other at the Riverside this evening – although if they had their way they would not be.
Tonight’s game – brought forward by the English Football League after Boro’s home match with West Brom was selected for TV coverage later this month – is one that the rival managers could do without and they have said so.
More especially with work going on behind the scenes to try to instigate some key transfer business ahead of Thursday’s 5pm deadline for permanent moves, with the loan deadline following at the end of this month.
For the hosts tonight’s game is particularly untimely with Boro in the market for a number of players after sanctioning the big-money sale of captain Ben Gibson, with Adama Traore poised to follow him out of Teesside.
Wilder, without defender Jake Wright and midfielder Paul Coutts this evening – although the latter handed United a big fillip by returning to first-team training yesterday following a long-term knee injury – said: “I haven’t got a crystal ball to know if this is going to be a better time to play them. I will know afterwards.
“But from a manager’s point of view I do not get it and I think this game should have been set up and organised better than it has been. Especially this week.
“I saw Tony’s comments and he agrees 100 per cent. Every time I meet Tony I get on great with him and he is a proper football manager.
“He does not beat about the bush about what he says. Two weeks ago I went to a managers’ meeting and he was rattling into referees. I was sat there right behind him, thinking, ‘go on Tony’. He is a very senior manager at this level who has spent most of his career in the Premier League.
“But he has still got the roots of where he has come from as a player and a manager as well, which I really respect.”
While both the Blades and Boro have made transfer inroads this summer frustrations have abounded, most latterly in their pursuit of Ipswich Town forward Martyn Waghorn, who is finalising a move to Derby.
The Rams matched Boro’s bid for the north-easterner, which was accepted by Ipswich, who chose to decline the Blades’ own structured offer.
Waghorn’s wage demands also scuppered any serious hopes of him heading to Bramall Lane with Wilder philosophical about missing out on his signing.
The Blades’ chief said: “It is just how it is. We cannot be embarrassed that different clubs are at different stages of recruitment and are more powerful than us. We have to accept that.
“I think he would have been a good fit. We put a bid in and put our best foot forward in terms of wages too. But we knew if the other two clubs stepped in we might be third in line and it has turned out that way.
“We want to get our number one (targets) and wanted that deal to go through. I do not think we will do anything permanent between now and Thursday, in or out, unless something on the loan situation pops up.”
The margins between both Boro and the Blades proved tight in their two fixtures last term, with the Blades controversially denied a late point at the Riverside last August after an erroneous decision to rule out a last-gasp ‘equaliser’ from Jack O’Connell in a 1-0 loss.
United claimed a spot of revenge thanks to a 2-1 success at S2 in April following not one but two goal-of-the-season contenders from Welshman Lee Evans, much to the chagrin of Pulis, who hails from Evans’s home town.
On whether Boro players will have any special advice for dealing with him, Evans – grateful that United have an early chance to make amends after Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to Swansea – said: “I would probably be thinking, ‘You cannot do that again, surely?’
“The two games last year were close and I do not see much difference this year. The two managers are quite similar and both want their teams to work hard and press the ball and win the ball back high.”
As for renewing acquaintances with fellow Newportonian Pulis, Evans continued: “He is a massive name back in Newport. Hopefully, one day, I can be as big a name as him down there.”
Last six games: Middlesbrough WWDLDD Sheffield United WDLLWL.
Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).
Last time: Middlesbrough 1 Sheffield United 0; August 12, 2017; Championship.