CHRIS WILDER admits he has been too easy on his players in the last week after branding Sheffield United’s draw at Charlton “criminal”.
And he challenged his smarting squad, some members whom he named and shamed. “It’s ended on a not great note for me today but I don’t care what the players think," he said. "I’m driving this club forward and I’m going to do it. They have to take notice and be better.”
The Blades extended an unbeaten league run to 15 matches but their boss was furious that for the third successive fixture they had failed to turn supremacy into more goals, leaving the door open for Charlton to salvage a draw.
“I’m not going to apologise and say our run continues and we’re still in the mix,” said Wilder whose side dropped a place to third in the table. “That’s obvious and we should be with the players that we’ve got. I’m looking for us to take that extra step forward now and turn ourselves from an alright decent team into a very good team. Today I thought we were a decent team but not a very good team.”
He singled out his three centre halves [Jack O’Connell, Ethan Ebanks-Landell, substitute Kieron Freeman] and Daniel Lafferty for not taking responsibility which presented the Addicks an opportunity to snatch a point at the death. Mark Duffy, who put United in front with his third goal for the club and had his best performance since signing in the summer, couldn’t escape Wilder’s criticism either.
Leon Clarke started in place of regular front man Matt Done, dropped to the bench, but was substituted by Caolan Lavery in the second half and Wilder all but admitted the striker had let him down. “We thought Leon looked excellent in training,” he said.
The Blades dominated the entire match at The Valley and led from the 32nd minute. But neon warning signs which flashed in home wins against Shrewsbury and Bury who both finished with nine men, came home to roost at The Valley.
An inability to turn their superiority into goals and sloppy defending in one of the rare moments they had to do any, forced the Blades and a 3,000-strong travelling army of fans to stomach taking only a point after the south Londoners equalised in the third minute of added time.
“For us to come here and dominate a game like this and just walk away with one point is criminal,” said the manager who could barely hide his anger.
Only four days earlier, as reported by ViewFromTheJohnStreet, Wilder uncharacteristically appeared to turn a blind eye to his players needing the third-minute of stoppage time before beating nine-man Bury 1-0 at Bramall Lane. Instead choosing to talk up “how great” late winners are.
That was on the back of a 2-1 home win against Shrewsbury who played the entire second period with 10 men and finished with nine yet still managed to score the only goal of the half as the Blades failed to punish them further.
If Wilder was trying to play Mr Nice Guy in recognition of his team’s impressive unbeaten run, not anymore. “I expect my team to play well and win and we’ve dropped two big points here today so there’s no getting away from the fact. I’ve let the players off the last couple of games,” he acknowledged.
“People talk about stats, about possession, passes. We get all those because we’re a forward thinking, go-ahead club but the biggest stat is putting the ball in the back of the net.
“The amount of chances and the opportunities and the way we’ve played – and good – to put teams to bed especially over the last few games has been frightening. This was another one today. We totally dominated the game from start to finish.”
He added: “We’re a decent side, people recognise that. We’ve put it together over a short space of time but that ’aint good enough. For me I want us to be up there right now and today was an opportunity to really stick a marker down and say this is us, this is what we’re about.
“For me that’s not enough, a 1-1 draw, and if we are going to see the game out, keep a clean sheet, then my three big centre-halves need to head that first ball instead of letting John Fleck head it and then my left-back [Lafferty] should defend better.
“Then if they have a free kick whether it’s debatable or whatever and the ball comes into the middle of our box I’ve got three big ’uns in there and it’s one big head and we win the game.”
The Blades strikeforce didn’t escape either suggesting that at least one change can be expected for Walsall’s visit to the Lane tomorrow night.
“From the top of the pitch we have to do better and score. If it is isn’t Doney, if it isn’t Clarkey and it isn’t (Caolon) Lavery that’s shot that’s there job. The boys on the pitch when they get into those positions have got to show more quality like we did at Chesterfield (won
4-1) and if we do, we’ll do well.”
United’s goals have come from all areas of the pitch in recent weeks, but top scorer Sharp has had limited assistance from his strike partners and if that doesn’t change soon the manager may have to look to the January transfer window. Controversial former striker Ched Evans, at financially troubled near-neighbours Chesterfield, is being a talked about amongst many Blades fans as an obvious target.
Wilder said: “For us not to take that game from one to two to three to four is very disappointing. No disrespect to the opposition but if we score the second then they have to come out and that really opens the game up. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for that relentlessness, I’m looking for that ruthlessness.”
Duffy scored a set piece goal straight off the training ground from a free kick just outside the box and he had a big influence on the match driving forward. But Wilder still wanted more from the player who is recognised for his delivery.
“I thought Duff got into some great positions but as I said to him in there [the dressing room)] he’ll be a little bit disappointed because there was a spell where we had about three of four crosses in the first half where we were just looking for a decent one and we score. Billy [Sharp] can head it, Leon [Clarke] can head it, we can finish, we’ve had Lafferty in the box, we’ve had Basham in the box.”
Wilder dropped Sharp’s regular striker partner in favour of summer signing Clarke now fully fit after injury. “It was a hard call for Doney but he’ll come back.” said the manager. “He understands the roles and responsibilities of playing up front for us. They all have to score when we get into those positions. It’s tough on Matt, it’s tough on Scougs [Stefan Scougall was also dropped to the bench] but we have to make those decisions.”
Wilder recognised that his team were hurting after victory was snatched from their grasp but made no apology for being outspoken. “To be fair to the players they want to win and so they’re disappointed, very disappointed and frustrated but we have to say it as it is,” he said.
“The last two games and this game we have to be better. Take the game away from the opposition whether they’re down to nine men, 10 men or 11 men and we’ve certainly not done that today.”
One can only imagine it was a quiet journey back to Sheffield on the team coach minus the manager who drowned his sorrows on a night out in London. The last eight days have been a wake-up call.
But it shows how far the club has come when seven points from the last nine is not considered good enough, nor performance levels in all three fixtures. The mark of a winning mentality that has been sadly lacking for most of United’s extended stay in League One. Wilder has changed all that. “The players should be disappointed because you have to work hard to win games of football and we worked ever so hard to get ourselves in a good position,” he said.
“But you have to show that last little bit which turns teams that are going to do ok into teams that are really going to achieve and win things. We have to learn that lesson really quickly.”