SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Chris Wilder believes that the club have sent out a strong message to their rivals by keeping hold of all their star players during the January transfer window.
Transfer deadline day proved a quiet one at Bramall Lane, with the Blades’ incoming business all completed in the first half of the window with the arrivals of Ryan Leonard, Lee Evans and Ricky Holmes and the loan signing of striker James Wilson.
On the outgoing front, the Blades managed to retain all of their leading lights, with pre-Christmas fears that the club would struggle to keep hold of highly-rated midfielder David Brooks in the wake of major interest from the Premier League being allayed.
Brooks, on the mend following a bout of glandular fever, was the subject of an approach from a Premier League club willing to pay an eight-figure sum for his services back in December.
His form has been monitored by the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton.
The Blades also fielded enquiries regarding several other key players during last month, but with the likes of John Fleck and Jack O’Connell signing long-term deals in the autumn, along with Brooks, the Bramall Lane outfit were always in a position of strength when it came to keeping their squad together.
Wilder, whose seventh-placed side surpassed expectations in the first half of the season and are rightly viewed as firm play-off candidates come May, said: “I believe it sent out a message. There are always conversations and some I am only privy to.
“But I have made my point pretty clear and stood firm on the fact that we are trying to build and want to keep our best players.
“Sometimes, that gets taken out of your hands. I am not being critical of people offering ridiculous money, but you see the likes of Fulham turning down bids of whatever for players, they will have their reasons.
“There was never any concrete bids, but there were enquiries and talk. The biggest thing is we kept all our players and added to them and moved players on who we feel need to go and play football.
“A lot of our players are coveted by opposition clubs, whether in the Championship or even higher. We keep that under wraps. There are always conversations that go on regarding availability, but we have stayed strong and I have stayed strong because I want to build.
“In terms of the players coming in, we have added and done some excellent business.
“From where we were 18 months ago to now, in terms of playing who we wanted and have got now, it is a really good progression.”
While the Blades can be wholly satisfied at their work in the window, two other Yorkshire play-off candidates in Leeds United and Middlesbrough will be hoping that some key transactions made in the second half of the window can galvanise their play-off quest following inconsistent seasons.
Leeds followed up the capture of £3m Boro midfielder Adam Forshaw with the signing of West Bromwich Albion’s teenage striker Tyler Roberts for £2.5m – taking their major window spending to the £7m mark after the earlier £1.5m addition of Club Brugge left-back Laurens De Bock.
Boro manager Tony Pulis endured a hectic end to the window, which saw three expensive summer signings who cost a combined outlay of £18m leave and three newcomers arrive as he attempts to build a side fully in his own ethos as the Teessiders eye a concerted play-off push in the final third of the campaign.
Martin Braithwaite, a £9m close-season recruit from Toulouse, has returned to France after joining Bordeaux on loan, while £6.5m capture Ashley Fletcher has headed to north-east rivals Sunderland on a temporary basis after a difficult first season on Teesside.
Cyrus Christie signed for Fulham in a £3m deal that will rise to £4m, with three incoming arrivals in winger Jack Harrison, midfielder Mo Besic and versatile defender Martin Cranie adding fresh options for Pulis.
Eighth-placed Boro, the Blades and tenth-placed Leeds all face a definitive spell up to the final international break in mid-March in their attempt to make the top six, with Wilder admitting that his side’s results in this period will determine whether they will be pushing for the play-offs in the run-in.
Wilder, whose side follow up Tuesday’s game with high-flying Aston Villa with a trip to runaway leaders Wolves on Saturday before a home derby with Leeds United, said: “Our season is not done and dusted if we do not get a result at Wolves.
“After Saturday, we have 16 games left and will have played Derby, Villa and Wolves twice; with the top three all done and dusted. If we are going to be competing at the back end of the season, going into the last five or eight games to get into the play-offs, we have to set it up by our next eight games going into that.
“If you split the games up into thirds and we do not pick any points up in the next five or six, we are not going to do anything really. You are going to make it more difficult to achieve in the back end of the season.
“We have to pick up points in the next five or six games. It does not make or break our season, but it puts us in a better position if we do get the results.”