Sheffield United v Reading: Boss Chris Wilder hoping Blades can stir ‘loud, noisy’ home fans

Sheffield United face their “biggest game of the season” today with the visit of strugglers Reading to Bramall Lane.

Manager Chris Wilder joins his Sheffield United players on the pitch as they celebrate Wednesdays home win over Middlesbrough (Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage).

This is the view of Blades’ manager Chris Wilder, which may surprise a few onlookers as United embark on a testing month that will see them travel to Championship leaders Leeds United, face two South Yorkshire derbies against city rivals Wednesday and Rotherham United, plus a trip to promotion rivals West Brom.

But, with just 14 games remaining – victory today could see the Blades leapfrog Leeds, who have no game this weekend, at the summit – Wilder is employing that well-used footballing mantra of taking it one game at a time.

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And after beating top-six rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday evening the last thing Wilder wants today is an anti-climax against a Royals team who are just a point above the relegation zone.

“The message I have given to the players is it’s no good doing that on Wednesday night, against a team in and around you, and backing off on Saturday,” said Wilder.

“This becomes the biggest game of the season for us. It’s our biggest home game, and it really is important.”

If United are to secure a top-six finish, if not automatic promotion, their home form will be key.

No other team in the second tier has won more home games than United – 10 wins from 16 – with only Swansea City, Leeds and the Baggies emerging from Bramall Lane with all three points this season.

Five of their seven remaining homes games come against teams in the bottom half of the Championship – Reading, Rotherham, Brentford, Millwall, and Ipswich – plus visits from Bristol City and Nottingham Forest.

“When I walked into the football club I said we have to produce front-foot performances and utilise the support that we get at home,” explained Wilder. “Excite them, get them off their seats, and use that to our advantage.

“When it’s hostile, loud and noisy – like it was, especially the second half, on Wednesday – it pushes teams back, mentally, and drives us forward. We have to use that.

“It’s been too easy for teams to come to Bramall Lane, turn up and get a result, then get back on the coach and basically say, ‘that was pretty easy’. I don’t think that’s the case now.

“We may lose games, but we will lose games doing it the right way and going out the front door.

“In the last 14 games – and the amount of games we have at home – we have to be really strong and powerful, and together as a football club. The prize out there is big and if we can win our home games we put ourselves in a fantastic position.”

The squad at Wilder’s disposal is far stronger than the one that missed out on the play-offs 12 months ago. Even the loss of Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham and George Baldock – three integral figures in United’s rearguard – failed to disrupt them against Boro as Martin Cranie and Richard Stearman stepped in.

Wing-back Baldock (calf) will be missing today, as will Basham (suspended) while O’Connell (hamstring) faces a fitness test.

“The performances last year at this stage of the season were right up there, the strength of the squad wasn’t,” said Wilder.

“That’s understandable, going into your first season back in the Championship after six years out. From a financial point of view we were not one of the big hitters. But we have improved, our squad is stronger this year, and it can absorb scenarios and different situations which may have affected us last year.

“This year, the likes of Cranie and Stearman coming in, Kieran Dowell playing in an unfamiliar position, Gaz (Gary Madine) coming off the bench, the group is a lot stronger and gives us a better chance of performances and results.”

On O’Connell, Wilder said: “We will give him as much time as possible, he is a really important player for us. He was disappointed to miss out. He is an old-school player who doesn’t want to miss a game.”

So can the Blades put pressure on Leeds by winning today and leapfrogging their Yorkshire rivals?

“It’s just about winning a game of football,” stressed Wilder. “I am not bothered about what everybody else does, we just have to take care of our own business. I am not interested in what Leeds or Norwich do; the full focus is on us. Everything else will take care of itself. We can’t be worrying what’s happening at other clubs, we can’t control that, all we can affect is our own result.”