AHEAD of an international break that is likely to be spent with one from a trio of Yorkshire clubs atop the Championship, manager Chris Wilder insists his Sheffield United side would relish the pressure of being at the summit.
Third-placed Blades are locked on 22 points with leaders Leeds United and Middlesbrough heading into today’s clash with Hull City at Bramall Lane.
Despite such a lofty position, United have flown under the radar with much of the spotlight in the second tier being focused on Marcelo Bielsa, West Bromwich Albion’s prolific strikeforce and the on-going shenanigans at Aston Villa that this week saw manager Steve Bruce sacked the day after a disgruntled fan threw a cabbage in his direction.
Blades’ relative anonymity could all change if Wilder’s men do spend the next fortnight in pole position, but the 51-year-old is adamant this scenario would only inspire his players.
“Going under the radar doesn’t annoy us at all,” said the United chief to The Yorkshire Post.
“Outside stuff we can’t control, and we don’t want to turn down points.
The good thing is we have been consistent with our attitude right the way through. Does it add extra spice when you play (Sheffield) Wednesday or Leeds? YesChris Wilder
“I love my golf and you don’t see a golfer thinking, ‘I want to shoot a 78 in the first round and then that means I have got to hit 62 in the last to try and win’. I just think there is a desire to do well.
“The good thing is we have been consistent with our attitude right the way through. Does it add extra spice when you play (Sheffield) Wednesday or Leeds? Yes.
“But you don’t go to Millwall and get a result unless you run around and have the [courage] to play. Then, at Blackburn, did we take a backwards step or did we turn up? Proper players turn up.”
United will go into the Hull clash knowing if occupying top spot during the season’s second enforced break remains a realistic target thanks to Leeds hosting Brentford in the lunchtime kick-off.
Bielsa’s men returned to winning ways in midweek against Nigel Adkins’s side at the KCOM Stadium, but the Bees sit sixth in the table and will be tough opposition.
“Brentford are a team who need the ball,” said the Argentinian. “You have many teams who feel comfortable without the ball. This is not a criticism, but Brentford want the ball and they know what to do when they have it. They want to play. They don’t want to lose time.”
Middlesbrough, who host Nottingham Forest, complete the trio of White Rose sides who can end today on top of the Championship if results go their way.
It is at Bramall Lane, however, where perhaps the most intriguing fixture can be found with Tigers head coach Adkins looking to get one over his former club for the third time this year.
Hull need a response to the desperately flat performance against Leeds in midweek as the East Riding club look to avoid dropping into the relegation zone come 5pm.
“I have been in the game long enough to know that sometimes teams who don’t start the season so well can go on a run and move themselves right up the table,” said the Hull chief. “That is the challenge that we face.”
Billy Sharp heads into the clash with his former manager on the back of netting twice in the midweek win over Blackburn Rovers.
It was the 40th United game in which the striker had found the net since Wilder arrived at the Lane in the summer of 2016 and he is yet to finish on the losing side on such occasions. Thirty three of those have been won, a remarkable record.
“People were having a go at Billy in League One and probably before that,” said Wilder when asked about his eight-goal top scorer. “But, for me, Billy is playing the best football of his career.
“I certainly think you will be pushed to think of a better spell in his career than now, even when he reached the Premier League.
“These performances are a measure of the lad’s attitude. Off the pitch his conditioning is brilliant. His general all-round play is good and his training is taking him into games.
“We always ask high standards and they have to be up there. Others don’t go full tilt, but give enough so that we are okay with them. Billy, I have got to say, is going full tilt.
“Obviously he will always score goals. We are just proud he is captain of a team that is going well. He has kept driving his home town club forward.”
As for whether August’s League Cup exit to Hull will have a bearing on today’s clash, Wilder added: “Anyone who wants to hang something on that result that is up to them. But it will have no resemblance to anything in the league.”