CHRIS WILDER was clear enough. As it stands Sheffield United have no hope of being promoted automatically and he cast doubt on even managing to finish in the top six.
After watching the Blades let a match which they dominated for the first half-an-hour slip through their fingers in a 2-1 defeat to rivals West Bromwich Albion at Bramall Lane and just 36 hours after revealing that his activity in the January transfer window has been limited to loan signings, he said: “We’ve just got to keep working with the players that we’ve got.”
“We’re certainly not strong enough to challenge at the top of the division, that’s absolutely plain and clear from what we can see. If we think we’re going to get through to the end of the season with this group of players it’s going to be a struggle.”
As the Championship programme approaches the halfway stage, the direction of travel at Bramall Lane really does hang in the balance. Many Blades fans are exasperated that co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud cannot put their power struggle and mistrust of each other temporarily aside to make the difference with the club within touching distance of having a shot at the top flight.
But all is not lost. Indeed, at this stage a quick fix rather than a strategic long term commitment, which may or not work, looks the better option for both manager and his employers. Provided, of course, the latter are prepared to match Wilder’s ambition and stump up the necessary and considerable wages.
The quality of striker and midfield attacking player Wilder wants to buy and plug the gaps is clearly well beyond his financial reach. Certainly until McCabe or his estranged Saudi partner emerge triumphant from their bitter-fought battle and maybe even beyond.
Even if that was not the case, persuading the class of player Wilder is searching for to make a long-term commitment to a Championship club, let alone one with serious ownership issues, would be a Herculean task.
The loan market is very much short-term thinking. It does, however, offer much more opportunity of succeeding in the January transfer window if McCabe and Prince Abdullah are willing to part-fund what are likely to be eye-watering wages for a very limited period. It goes without saying, however, that is a big if.
Should Wilder be left to trawl the loan market, as he did last January for the likes of Manchester United’s little known striker James Wilson whom, when fit, made negligible impact, then the chances of reaching the play-offs, let alone winning them, are seriously diminished. The likelihood of Wilder choosing to remain at Bramall Lane for a fourth season would be unlikely, especially as the future direction of the club would still be waiting to be settled in the High Court.
The reported six-figure salary of 36-year-old former England international striker Jermain Defoe, now a fringe player at Premier League Bournemouth and whose name is being repeatedly linked to Bramall Lane, maybe a bridge too far. But players of a similar pedigree and earning less would be realistic targets.
It works for everyone. United would have a good chance of adding significantly to key areas and reboot a Premier League bid which many including the manager are convinced is within their grasp. Should they miss out, then those same players are off the books. The parent club would save a proportion of a hefty salary of a player not currently in their thinking. Meanwhile the players concerned would be able to showcase their talents without loss of income in an effort to regenerate their career.
Wilder was brutally honest after watching West Brom inflict the third home defeat of the season. “We didn’t deserve to get anything from the game tonight based on the (latter) 60 minutes. The first half-an-hour doesn’t count for anything.”
“It epitomised where we are, really. We had a chance to go two-nil up and then from that passage of play the ball’s in the back of our net and we should have been out of sight against an usually powerful team in the division.
“But we don’t seem to turn that dominance into goals. I thought the players dropped, the belief in the team went a bit.” Adding: “They didn’t really hurt us but I always felt if there was going to be a team that was going to win the game it was going to be them and not us.”
Warning signs have been flashing for some time. Red lights which Wilder repeatedly eludes to through the media in what are coded messages targeted McCabe and Prince Abdullah.
Messages which couldn’t be more plain but are they really listening? Or is United’s progress along with the retention of manager they really can’t afford to lose, a sideshow?