Sheffield United: Who does Chris Wilder think is the ‘heartbeat’ of his team?

John Fleck has impressed since joining Sheffield United. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

John Fleck has impressed since joining Sheffield United. Pic Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has described John Fleck as a “proper player” ahead of tonight’s match against Coventry City.

But Fleck, who spent four years at the Ricoh Arena before joining United five months ago, is being challenged by the 49-year-old to become the perfect midfielder by improving his ratio in front of goal.

“It’s a big game for John, he’s been outstanding,” Wilder said. “He’s a proper player and I love him, he’s been different class. John is respected down there, respected as one of the best in the division. He was part of the recruitment that we were looking for.”

Fleck has emerged as a pivotal member of United’s first team squad, making 25 appearances and eight assists, since arriving at Bramall Lane on a free transfer in July. The former Scotland under-21 international’s partnership with Paul Coutts is, Wilder acknowledged earlier this week, a major factor behind his team’s climb to third in the League One table. Nevertheless, speaking as United finalised their preparations for the visit to Warwickshire, he insisted there is still room for improvement in both players’ games.

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“They make good decisions,” Wilder said. “They get on the ball and get us going, they’re both just really good players. It’s important we keep them fit. They’ve just got better and better. I still speak to them about scoring, I still think they’ve got more in them regarding that. Midfielders have this thing in their head that they get turned on by sliding people in. That’s what they get their pleasure out of, creating.”

Fleck (pictured) claimed his only goal in United colours during last month’s 4-1 victory over Chesterfield. Coutts, whose improved performances under Wilder have been one of the stories of the season so far, netted his third of the campaign when Swindon Town were beaten 4-0 at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

“John and Paul are the heartbeat of the team really,” Wilder said. “It’s important we keep them available and fit.

“We don’t want them to be banging everything from 30 yards out but, when they do get into positions like they did against Chesterfield and Swindon, we want them to back themselves and pull the trigger.”

Although it is unusual for Wilder to speak in such glowing terms about individual players, his willingness to talk-up Fleck’s talents illustrates the confidence he has in the 25-year-old technical ability and mental strength.

Fleck, who started his career at Rangers, was voted City’s player of the season by both supporters and team mates alike during his final season with the club and Wilder said: “He breaks things up, he puts his foot in and, as we all know, he can pick the right pass too. But he’s not the only good player in our team and, like everyone else, he can be better too.”