There is a school of thought that Sheffield United could afford to draw either or both of their big upcoming home games with nearest rivals Scunthorpe and Bolton.
You can bet Chris Wilder didn’t attend that particular lecture!
It’s a reminder that genuinely there’s only one place Wilder’s Blades are aiming for this season and it isn’t second to anyone, as 20 goal skipper Billy Sharp emphasised recently in amplifying his boss’s attitude.
You’ll get the usual manager-speak of being “happy to be in or around it” at this time of the season. In many cases it’s both acceptable and true.
But the reality at Bramall Lane is that it is taking both an ultra-positive mind-set and a supreme effort to drag United out of League One at what is now the sixth attempt.
Being in or around it tends to lead to the play-offs and I am reminded again of the United supporter of my acquaintance whose pre-season wish is always “first, second. . . or seventh.”
Wilder has changed the mentality from being competitive to being out in front and staying there, knowing that the biggest club at this level will always suffer disproportionately from chasers snapping at their heels.
He’s applied the same thinking during individual matches, always favouring positive substitutions when games are in the balance. Often, too, these switches are made much earlier than the traditional timing of around the 70 minute mark.
Three random recent examples, regardless of the results, would be;- Coventry 1 United 2 (Lavery for Done 63 minutes); United 2 Oldham 0 (Clarke for Done 54 minutes); United 1 Northampton 0 (Lavery for Clarke 59 minutes).
This trait has not gone unnoticed. Former United midfielder Mark Todd, a one-time team-mate of Wilder, tells me: “Chris makes great decisions at the right times.
They are early decisions. He’s bold, he’s brave. And when he wants to change something it has an effect.”
Todd, who enjoys a community role with the club, recalls: “Chris loved to bomb on as a right back. This is an attacking side in his own image. There’s a plan in place but there’s also humility and realism. It’s our’s to lose, I think.”
The point being that an emphasis on winning over not losing is the formula to take the Blades over the line. And that includes these visits of Scunthorpe on Saturday (five points behind in second place) and Bolton the following week (seven points adrift in third).
Both of the chasers have games in hand, reinforcing the view of those who might accept draws as satisfactory progress. Assuredly, Wilder won’t. Another clue is the expected return of big guns Sharp, James Hanson and Mark Duffy after being strategically rested midweek.
Whether United win or not is to some extent beside the point. Wilder knows that being positive at all times is the way to the prize.