Rotherham United will not be meek like Sheffield Wednesday, snipes Sheffield United chief

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder made a veiled attack on neighbours Wednesday with some of his pre-match praise for Rotherham United (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder made a veiled attack on neighbours Wednesday with some of his pre-match praise for Rotherham United (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).
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Two weeks on from a South Yorkshire derby that brought out the feisty side in Chris Wilder comes another local encounter that is showing the softer side of the Sheffield United manager.

The Blades’ last Championship fixture against Sheffield Wednesday was never going to be one to induce pleasantries from the United boss, but he appeared to revel in the spikiness that dominated the pre- and post-match rhetoric.

He accused the Owls of “celebrating like they had won the league” when greeting the goalless draw between the Steel City rivals at Bramall Lane two Fridays ago. Even yesterday, when looking ahead to a lunchtime derby with Rotherham United tomorrow, he could not resist another couple of digs at Wednesday.

“It will be a different game to the last one – they’ll come for us,” said the Blades’ chief in reference to how he felt Wednesday sat back at Bramall Lane earlier this month.

Even in drawing similarities between his United side and Rotherham United the response had the feel of a thinly-veiled attack on the club across the city.

“Very hard-working, working-class football clubs, not arrogant, don’t get above their station and have to work extremely hard for everything that goes their way,” was his summation.

It is understandable that a local rivalry might elicit such feelings, but the relationship between the Uniteds of Sheffield and Rotherham is a lot more amicable.

And it is not just on the part of Wilder. When the Millers found themselves in dire financial straits a decade ago the Blades helped provide a lifeline for their stricken neighbours with assistance in fundraising efforts off the field, and loan players on it.

Now on an equal footing in the Championship – albeit 15 places apart within it – the respect remains undimmed, particularly from Wilder to Paul Warne, who will stand in the opposite dugout tomorrow.

“There has been a connection between the two clubs, I think, going back a few years and there are similiarities in the way we play,” said Wilder. “Both of us give ourselves an opportunity of winning games of football.

“You can’t fail to be impressed with the way Paul has turned the club around. He’s done that with good honest people off the pitch and on it.

“From his point of view it was a job that was offered to him and it was a brave decision to take it. He was working in another part of the club and he was willing to put it all on the line. Fair play to him for having the courage to do that.”

The way in which Rotherham have set about their return to the Championship this season has echoes of the fearlessness the Blades showed 12 months ago.

Few expected Wilder’s men to challenge for promotion, just as few expected Rotherham to be outside the relegation zone in November, having already equalled the four wins they mustered in that dire relegation campaign of two years ago.

Being thumped 5-1 by Brentford in their first game back in the Championship in August could have left Millers’ staff and fans thinking ‘here we go again’, but Wilder sees a strength of character at the New York Stadium in the way they have bounced back.

“We knew when we first came up we might take a couple of hidings,” said Wilder. “But it tells you a lot about them that they didn’t go into freefall. It tells you, like it did us, about the character within the group.

“I’m sure they’ll hit their expectations this season. I think they’ll surprise people in the second half of the season because of the characters involved. I certainly wouldn’t write them off. To win promotion last season, when they were in freefall, to clear the decks, player-wise and financially as well, that takes some doing, and Paul Warne did that.

“They won’t see themselves as underdogs tomorrow. They’ll feel they have a chance against anybody.

“We are, in terms of history and size, the bigger club. We are there to be shot at on Saturday. The players will be told that this week. When we came into the division we wanted to go after people, and we will be a scalp for Rotherham.

“I’m not saying we’re this huge club in the division or anything like that. But in this one they’ll come at us. We’ll have a target on our backs.”

The prize for the Blades if they can claim a win tomorrow lunchtime is a return to the top of the Championship, however temporary that might prove to be.

That, allied with this being the second game of a run of three derbies in four when they are on the television, underlines for Wilder the importance of Yorkshire rivalries and the growing stature of his club.

“Television taking a keen interest is good for us,” he said. “There was a time not so long ago when fixtures, they weren’t meaningless, but there was going to be 4,000 people there. Now it’s a full house just down the road.

“These are great games to be involved in and ones we should take on board and embrace.”