Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is well aware of the significance of victory at Championship strugglers Ipswich Town tomorrow.
A win at Portman Road would nudge the Blades to the 40-point mark at the halfway stage of the season – after 23 games – and have them on course for a top-six finish. By replicating that points haul over the second half of the campaign the Blades would be virtual certainties of at least a play-off place.
Last season Derby County finished sixth on 75 points, while Cardiff City were promoted in second spot with 90 points.
Twelve months earlier both Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town earned a top-six berth with 81 points, while in 2016 the Owls clinched sixth spot with just 74 points.
They are statistics of which Blades’ boss Wilder is all too aware.
“If we get a positive result on Saturday at Ipswich we will have picked up 40 points from 23 games,” he said. “If we can – and I believe we can – replicate the second part of the season as we have done the first, in terms of performances and results, there’s no reason why we can’t do well.
“If we replicate that we put ourselves in a really good position.
“We are in the race after 22 games. It’s been good, but we want to be better. We want to kick-on.”
Having missed out on the play-offs last season following promotion from League One the Blades currently sit fifth despite having a relatively small playing budget.
Wilder said: “We have always had that mentality that we are up against the big boys. For the majority of games we are going to be underdogs. That’s not a tactic used by me, that’s a fact. But it doesn’t stop us from wanting to achieve.
“We will keep racing our car against the Ferraris. Our car has got a bit better, but it’s still not a Ferrari.”
Wilder hopes to strengthen in January and will look to bring in “two or three players” on loan – including a much-needed striker – when the transfer window re-opens.
“We are quite excited about one or two that we have worked really hard to make happen,” he said.
“Maybe one we will have to wait on. We are in a host of clubs looking to improve. We can’t just say ‘yes’ and blow everybody else out of the water.
“But we are in an okay position to improve, and that’s what we will do.”
Since arriving at Bramall Lane, Wilder has been keen to build relationships with Premier League clubs.
Last year the Blades loaned the likes of Chelsea goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, Tottenham Hotspur’s Cameron Carter-Vickers and Manchester United’s James Wilson.
This season Wales international Ben Woodburn failed to make an impact, but Brighton midfielder Ollie Norwood and goalkeeper Dean Henderson have impressed, the latter arriving from Old Trafford for the season.
Wilder believes playing in front of big crowds at Bramall Lane can be a good mental test for Premier League rookies.
“When I first walked in the door that (the loan market) was something we had to resurrect, utilise to our benefit,” he said. “I always thought our facilities (are attractive), and for young players coming out of big clubs to play in front of 25,000 every other week.
“They (Premier League clubs) understand the player’s ability; tactically they can play, physically they are tough. The biggest thing they look for is the mentality. ‘What happens if I make a mistake?’ Can they go and play in front of 25,000?
“I always thought it was a good home for the younger players. It’s not always come off, but we have had some good ones.
“It’s a market which we have to maximise because of the position the football club is in.”
The Blades will be looking to bounce back to winning ways at Ipswich after losing to West Bromwich Albion at home last Friday night.
“We were disappointing in the second half because it wasn’t our usual up-and-at-them performance,” said Wilder, who hopes to have striker Leon Clarke (hip) back fit this weekend.
“We are competing at the top end of the Championship. It’s really difficult for me because I don’t want to be too critical of the players.
“Their record over the last two-and-a-half years, a lot of those players came up from League One are still with us.
“It’s quite a tough one to talk about after the game because I think everyone recognises we are really close to these top clubs, really powerful clubs.
“Against West Brom for 35 minutes we were outstanding.
“I will flag it up, we felt a little bit sorry for ourselves. So it was a chat to the players, we have done fantastic, and we have to go again.
“It’s plainly obvious we want to – need to – boost the group in January with two or three players coming in. We want to up the level. Good players are never scared of competition.”