Manager Chris Wilder says his focus is purely on getting Sheffield United into the play-offs amid growing uncertainty at boardroom level over the future direction of the club.
United’s sustained challenge for the top six in their first season back in the second tier has been conducted in recent months with a battle for full control of the club being waged in the background.
HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud recently launched an attempt to take full control of United in response to a process instigated by his fellow co-owner, and the long-time benefactor of Sheffield United, Kevin McCabe.
There are a number of issues complicating the procedure, including McCabe wanting any buyout to include that of United’s property interests, with progress anticipated in the summer. The background noise could have been seen as a distraction, and when stating on Thursday that he will “say his piece at the end of the season”, it is clear that privately the issue has affected the manager.
But as the club’s bid for the play-offs comes down to the crunch with sixth-placed Millwall at Bramall Lane this lunchtime, Wilder wants everyone’s full attention focused on matters on the pitch.
“I can’t do anything about what’s going off at boardroom level. My full focus is trying to prepare the team to put ourselves into a position, which will be an outstanding achievement,” said Wilder.
“I’ll say my piece at the end. I’ll always be open and honest to supporters, and the board as well. I’m an employee of the football club. There will be a time and a place for everything.
“I don’t think I should be talking about off-field issues, and I don’t want to really.”
There is a school of thought that such uncertainty above him may weaken United’s and Wilder’s position at the end of the season, with the manager already a potential target for jobs in the summer. West Brom, who would have a superior budget in the Championship next term due to parachute payments, have already been linked with a move for a manager who was in League Two with Northampton just two seasons ago.
The prospect of the Premier League with his beloved Blades is what drives him now with Wilder urging his players to focus on the huge opportunity before them.
“When the door opens you’ve got to be prepared to step through it, no matter what season it is,” he said of whether this represents United’s best chance of promotion.
“I want to be manager of a club that is always wanting to improve.
“We don’t want to be a spike team, one that has a good season and then stuggles at the bottom end the next. We’ve brought players in who will improve with us, we’ve brought younger players in that will benefit from Championship experience.
“Now we’re coming down the home straight we’re looking at a game that, hopefully, will be an absorbing encounter between two teams that have done very well this year and have punched above their weight. When Millwall come to town it will be a lively affair. I’m sure our supporters will pack the ground out and give the players a buzz.”
Victory for United could potentially draw them level with the top six in what is a cluttered chase for the final two play-off spots.
“I’m not saying a draw absolutely kills us, but it puts us in such a strong position if we win,” he added.
“The opportunity is there for us. If we don’t get a win it gives other teams the opportunity to stretch the advantage.
“If we don’t win the gap could be six points with three games to go, and that will be a difficult scenario.”
That both United and Millwall are up there challenging in a division full of ex-Premier League riches, in their first season back in the Championship, has come as a surprise to most but not to Wilder, or Lee Evans, whose two goals on Tuesday dented Middlesbrough’s top-six charge and kept alive United hopes.
“Millwall are flying, the atmosphere here will be electric and we’re all looking forward to it,” said the Welsh international.
“No one has really expected us to do much this season. The pressure started to grow and people probably thought they’ll fade away eventually, but we’ve stuck in there and we’ve got four massive games now to try and get as many wins as we can.”