CHRIS WILDER condemned his players for acting "big time" and costing Sheffield United two points at Bramall Lane in a no-holds barred savaging of the League One leaders.
The furious Blades boss dropped any pretence concerning some of those he has publicly protected, questioning whether misfiring strikers Matt Done, Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke are earning their money.
He admitted his only option may be to scour what remains of the January transfer window in an effort to find a partner for leading goalscorer Billy Sharp who gave United a first-half lead with his 18th goal of the season in Saturday’s frustrating 2-2 draw with Gillingham.
Defender Chris Basham said: "Everyone understands the manager. He believes in us massively and he wants us to be top of the league where we deserve to be. If we’re letting ourselves down it’s only ourselves to blame and we feel that we let the manager down today that's for sure."
Wilder confirmed that he has already made a move and is expecting a reply to an offer for 29-year-old forward James Hanson who has scored 90 career goals for Bradford City, his only club, but just four this season, the last of them coming in November. He played against United in October's 3-3 draw at Valley Parade. Speculation that a deal might include Leon Clarke moving to Valley Parade was fuelled by both players being omitted from their matchday squads.
Jay O'Shea, the 28-year-old attacking midfielder who has scored eight goals for Chesterfield this season, is today set for a loan move to the Lane.
The return of former United goal-getter Ched Evans, found not guilty of rape following a retrial in October after resuming his stalled career at Chesterfield, remains on the wish list of some fans. The Blades cancelled Wales international Evans’ contract in 2012 after the £3million purchase from Manchester City, now 28, was found guilty at the first trial from which he served two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence behind bars.
“When Billy gets chances he scores,” said Wilder but he accused the remainder of his strikeforce of failing to do the job they are paid for. United are joint third top league goalscorers (53) in all four divisions alongside promotion rivals Scunthorpe but only five of those have come from the combined efforts of Done, Clarke and Lavery who have seven in all competitions.
Wilder warned that an inability to finish teams off “is hurting us” and costing vital points in the promotion race. Indeed, an article published on ViewFromTheJohnStreet.com prior to the visit of Gillingham could have been penned by Wilder himself.
Added to that are serious concerns in defence, an area where Blades fans thought long-standing structural problems had been solved. “If we are going to win games one nil or two nil then the other part of it is that we’ve got to defend properly,” blasted Wilder who was clearly appalled by what he witnessed from his rearguard.
He could barely contain his rage about the way the team ignored what had been meticulously worked on all week to “chuck away” two points. Loanee Ethan Ebanks-Landell endured his worst performance since joining from Wolves at the end of August and fellow centre-back Jack O’Connell wasn’t much better. Indeed, Ebanks-Landell, with five goals to his credit, quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite but has become worryingly inconsistent during the last couple of months.
Wilder said: “Myself and Alan [Knill, assistant manager] might as well have gone home [from training)]at about half one, two o’clock on about three days because we’ve looked at it, we’ve told them what is coming and we’ve not defended it. So off the back of that we’re 2-1 behind in a game when we should have been out of sight.”
Sharp aside, Wilder’s crushing verdict on his frontmen flies in the face of assistant Knill’s recent praise in which he claimed other club’s envied all United’s strikers and would jump at the opportunity to have them in their teams.
The manager didn’t confine his withering criticism to just events at the Lane on Saturday, singling out Done, who has now been pushed back out to the left and may soon be confined to the bench, and Clarke of trying his patience as the season has progressed.
“Caolan should score at the end; Matty Done should score in the period that he’s played up front; I think Sparky [Marc McNulty] should score when he goes through. Leon may feel a little hard done by today because he’s not been involved and he’s been injured, but he’s had opportunities.
“Billy is the only one who sticks the ball in the back of the net from countless [chances United have created]. Unbelievably I’ve never been involved with a team that creates so many chances, I’ve never been involved with a team that with the football we play get to unbelievable positions and not put teams to bed.
“We should be out of sight, we’ve scored enough goals this season. That has happened so many times and as I’ve said if you don’t put teams to bed and you don’t score, and Done doesn’t score, and Lavery doesn’t score or McNulty doesn’t score and Clarke doesn’t score that’s what they’re paid to do. They are paid to stick the ball in the back of the net. We should have someone up there alongside Billy. Billy has chances he scores and that [his strike partners’ failure] is letting us down at the moment.”
Wilder last went into public meltdown in November when a totally dominant United threw away a 1-0 lead late on at Charlton who snatched a draw in the last minutes. “I don’t care what the players think,” he said at the time. “I’m driving this club forward and I’m going to do it. They have to take notice and be better.”
He has since tried to tone down from his furious reaction, taking a more pragmatic view for the consumption of fans at least. Not even the dramatic collapse at Walsall a fortnight ago could rile him in the spotlight. “These things happen,” he said. “We’ve just got to take it on the chin and move on.”
But the truce has well and truly been broken. His players will have been shaken to the core after hearing his “big time” jibe. “We’ve been punished for the start of our second half,” said Wilder. “We said that we need to go and drive the game forward and we didn’t. I thought we were a little bit big time, no not a little bit, I thought we were big time second half. We’ve come out and thought it was just going to happen.”
He added: “Players have got to be good enough and show enough conviction in the final third to put teams to bed. We’re just not ruthless enough at the moment. I tell them all. They’ve all come knocking on my door when they don’t play. The skipper scores, how ever we haven’t got somebody else up there? I think you always know where I am going to come from and be up front and honest with it. If players can’t handle that with me, leaving a little bit on them, then unlucky ’cos that’s how it is.” United extended their lead over second-placed Scunthorpe to two points and Bolton to seven. Both their nearest rivals had a blank weekend after their respective fixtures were postponed due to frozen pitches. Bolton have two matches in hand, Scunthorpe one.
But Wilder was angry that United inflicted a “100 per cent missed opportunity” on themselves to put a marker down and pile pressure on their rivals who are playing catch-up.
He also rued the way his players have dominated the last two matches but conceded six goals and have only two points for their considerable effort. “Let’s be right about it, in both games they’ve [Walsall] had 15 minutes last week and they’ve [Gillingham] had five minutes [today] just after half time. That’s a small amount of the game but we’ve not been able to handle it. The rest [of the time] we’ve dominated, controlled possession, dominated the ball, created chances and we’ve come away with one point from six which is ridiculous.”
Of his search for another striker, Wilder warned supporters that within the budget he has, it’s not an easy task. Although he insisted he accepted that, some might construe it as a plaintive plea for co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to reach a little deeper into their pockets.
“Let’s be honest, we’re not in the market for £1million players. We work to a strict budget. Goalscorers are really hard to come by so we work within that. I’m not putting pressure on the owners but that’s where we are,” he said.
Now he is looking for an immediate reaction under the lights at the Lane against Fleetwood Town, fourth in the table and unbeaten in 10 league matches. A test which is looking a good deal trickier than it did at the turn of the year.
“The players know my feelings,” said Wilder whose no-nonsense approach as brutal as it sounds, will go down well with most supporters. He added: “They [the players] need to take on a bit more responsibility and get on with it.”