AMID a potentially pivotal week in the race for automatic promotion that has already brought the dismissal of the manager whose club are sitting fourth in the Championship, manager Chris Wilder insists Sheffield United are not feeling the pressure.
The Blades host Brentford tonight knowing victory, together with Reading taking at least a point off Leeds United at the Madejski Stadium, would mean a return to the top two.
It would represent the perfect tonic ahead of Saturday’s huge derby at Elland Road as the two Yorkshire rivals continue to do battle with Norwich City in what increasingly looks to be a three-way scrap to go straight up.
“Everyone has said there is no Wolves, like last year,” said Wilder to The Yorkshire Post. “But Norwich are making a very good fist of it.
“Our rivals up the road (Leeds) have had an outstanding season so far. Then there are loads of other clubs with something to play for. We are hanging on in there and want to take it as far as we can.
“We are enjoying it and doing a good job. It is ultra competitive, as Brentford illustrate. They will look at the last play-off spot and think, ‘if we win seven or eight out of ten we might get in there’.
“There are a few thinking like that, probably right down to 16th. We all have something to play for.”
Darren Moore’s sacking by West Bromwich Albion despite the former Bradford City defender having steered the club to fourth place with ten games remaining, underlined how high the stakes are, especially for those clubs who have invested heavily in an attempt to reach the promised land of the Premier League.
Wilder, in common with many in the game, found the decision a difficult one to fathom. But he also views Moore’s axing as being symptomatic of the pressure that comes with the tremendous financial gambles being taken by clubs in an attempt to escape the second tier.
“There are reasons for it, obviously,” said the United chief, a former team-mate of Moore at Valley Parade. “But from my point of view it was disappointing.
“West Brom are a big club in this division and it just shows how tough the Championship really is. You see the likes of Stoke and West Brom – huge, powerful clubs – that are outside the top three. It shows how tough it is.”
Asked if this meant the big spenders in the division were operating under a pressure that simply does not exist for the Blades, Wilder replied: “Absolutely, 100 per cent.
“It is not a do-or-die situation for us. If you look at our accounts and our financial dealings, in terms of what we pay our players, there will not be a situation here if we do not go up that will see everyone having to be sold and not being able to sign anyone.”
Refreshingly in an age when the Championship has been increasingly warped by the spending power afforded relegated clubs via parachute payments, the top three are all, to varying degrees, sides that have been together for a number of years and building towards this tilt at reaching the top flight.
“You need a plan and an identity,” added Wilder. “There has to be a short-, medium- and long-term plan. Very rarely do the short-term ones work, the big gambles.
“There are so many clubs under embargo who can’t do this and can’t do that. For me, it is part of my job not to put us in that position. That is the way I work.
“Other clubs possibly don’t. They go for the big gamble, sack a manager and then start again. I have got to say, being honest, I have got no sympathy for clubs who do it that way.
“If I had the amounts some have I still wouldn’t do it that way. I am proud of the way we have done it because we have continually improved.”
United are looking to extend a seven-game winning run on home soil tonight. The last six of those have seen Wilder’s men keep a clean sheet.
Brentford, 13th in the table, return to Yorkshire just four days after denting Middlesbrough’s promotion hopes with a 2-1 triumph at the Riverside.
A number of Blades players will be coming up against their former club, including Jack O’Connell and record signing John Egan.
“The biggest compliment I can pay to Dean (Smith, Brentford’s former head coach) and Thomas (Frank) is that we fancy a lot of their players,” added Wilder.
Last six games: Sheffield United DWWWDW, Brentford WLWLWW.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).
Last time: Sheffield United 1 Brentford 0; August 5, 2017; Championship.