Sheffield United v West Ham United: No winter break, but Blades are still refreshed for fight ahead

Sheffield United v West Ham UnitedIt will only be 15 days since Sheffield United last played, but it feels like longer. At home to West Ham United on Sunday, their season enters a new phase.

Unfortunately, such is the downgrading of the FA Cup, the more significant date is that the Blades have not played Premier League football since December 30. As that was against Manchester City you could say it is Boxing Day since they last played someone in their league.

The time has not been wasted.

It is billed as the Premier League's "winter break" – the biggest dog's dinner of a pause you are ever likely to see – but there has been no rest for Chris Wilder's men.

"Unlucky," he says with a smile.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Parachuted back into his beloved club during an uncharacteristically cluttered part of the season for clubs not involved in Europe, this has been his first prolonged spell of training-ground work since.

Tactically, we ought to see a team on another level. Need to.

There have been personnel changes too, albeit not as many as Wilder hoped for.

FIGHT: Sheffield United manager Chris WilderFIGHT: Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder
FIGHT: Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder

Plans to get all three signings he targeted on board to face the Hammers came up short. Ben Brereton Diaz arrived early on loan from Villarreal and played against Gillingham in the Cup – more an exercise into getting minutes into legs that needed them, in truth – and Wilder is hopeful the other two will be on board early next week.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But in that way managers do, he speaks of six "new faces" with Rhys Norrington-Davies back from long-term injury at the Priestfield Stadium, Rhian Brewster slightly ahead and Tom Davies not far behind.

"It's been quite a healthy window for us and fingers crossed we can move forward off the back of it," says a manager with a 10-point gap to safety to make up in the final 18 games – although with possible deductions for Nottingham Forest and Everton, it could reduce.

With a mountain like that to climb, Wilder gleefully cocked a snook at the whole point of this ham-fisted pause, to give players a breather.

NEW SIGNING: Sheffield United's Ben Brereton DiazNEW SIGNING: Sheffield United's Ben Brereton Diaz
NEW SIGNING: Sheffield United's Ben Brereton Diaz

"We approached the FA Cup game in the right way (winning 4-0 to set up a fourth-round visit from Brighton and Hove Albion) and then it was back to the hard yards," he says. "There's been a lot of work put into them from a tactical point of view.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"There were a couple of boys went off ill who I thought might have escaped to Dubai but they tell me they didn't chuck illnesses in.

"We have to maximise every moment, still understanding there is a time and place for taking them away from training – we can't go 24-7, we have to be smart with our work.

"We believe the players have taken on board the messages about different parts of the game but taking them on board and producing them are two different things. I'm sure they'll be doing their best to replicate the work we've done in a Premier League environment."

LOAN STAR: Oliver Arblaster impressed at Port ValeLOAN STAR: Oliver Arblaster impressed at Port Vale
LOAN STAR: Oliver Arblaster impressed at Port Vale

He believes the players are ready to give their all in what logic would say is likely to be a losing cause.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"There is definitely a huge fight left in myself and I have seen that in the players," insists Wilder. "If I didn't think that I would say to the board, 'Keep your powder dry (with regard to transfers) and we'll plan for another season in a different division'. That might still happen but it won't be through a lack of fight and commitment."

New signings are important not only for what they can bring as players, but also because they do not bear the scars of a first half of the season when a crippling injury list compounded an unrealistically low summer transfer budget.

"It is important but for the blows the players have taken they're remarkably fresh and upbeat," says Wilder.

"I was asked what did you want to do first, with or without the ball? It wasn't any of them, it was really from a mentality point of view. Confidence had slipped and drained a little bit, which was understandable. Now they're in a good place.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"They're disappointed they didn't win at Villa and that they didn't put Luton to bed when we were in a fantastic position. But they're back on it and they've shown me enough signs that there's plenty of fight in them, and I'll drive them right to the end."

Oliver Arblaster recalled from a loan at League One Port Vale, will be part of that freshness too, as Andre Brooks and Will Osula were in Wilder's first weeks back in the job.

"He'll put pressure on, he's good enough," says his manager. "I've had a few chats with some really good Championship managers who want to take him.

"Sometimes people talk about first loans not being successful but that was a really successful one, albeit in the division he was playing in.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We've seen his pathway through the England sides and how he's affecting games at international level against players his age.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on him but he's going be a player and he's a Sheff United boy.

"Is he going to play as soon as he gets fit? I would possibly say he won't but he'll certainly put huge pressure on the likes of (Vinicius) Souza and (Oliver) Norwood and Brooks and Davies and (Ben) Osborn and he'll want to fight his way through that lot and get himself into the team."

Without those qualities, part two of the season will be a slow death. The Blades must fight to avoid that.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.