Fingers were pointed, home truths delivered and voices were definitely raised.
The inquest into Tuesday’s defeat by Southend was, as their expressions betrayed afterwards, an uncomfortable experience for Sheffield United’s players. And it confirmed that, under Chris Wilder’s management, neither they nor Bramall Lane’s coaching staff will be shielded from the toxicity which inevitably follows a horrendous result.
“There will be a lot of talking and working out which players will take us forward,” he said. “I can’t hide, I won’t hide and neither should anyone else. I stood there on the touchline, I didn’t go and sit in the dug-out or say ‘I don’t fancy this. I’ll just go home.’ It’s at times like this you find the true character of people. Whether they can take it on the chin, react and respond.”
Wilder will demand his team does exactly that when they visit Millwall this weekend. The performance against Phil Brown’s side, which saw United concede three times at home for the first time since January, was described as “ridiculous” and “unacceptable” by the 48-year-old who later accused them of “gifting” the opposition their final two goals. A habit which, even before Southend arrived in South Yorkshire, had proven costly during fixtures with Crewe Alexandra and Rochdale.
“Nobody is going to help me,” Wilder continued. “My family might help a bit and pick me up a little. But basically, I have to look after myself. And, do you know what? Those players have to look after themselves as well. They have to pick themselves up and, if they do, they’ll be a part of this fantastic football club. If they don’t then, regardless of whether I’ve signed them up or not, then they won’t.”
Wilder has overhauled United’s squad since taking charge earlier this summer with Leon Clarke, Jack O’Connell and loanee Harry Chapman among eight new faces to join in recent weeks. Inevitably, given the sheer scale of change taking place behind the scenes, it will be some weeks before they become a slick, effective unit. But, as Wilder warned after being accepting the job in May, United must ensure they are not playing catch-up when the League One table begins to take shape.
Despite failing to win any of their three outings in the competition so far, United remain eight points behind early leaders Bolton Wanderers.
Although it is still far too early to draw conclusions about whether United are likely to challenge for promotion - Wilder’s previous club Northampton Town were eight points off the pace 12 months ago before going on to lift the League Two title in May - some issues which need to be urgently addressed have already emerged. Defensively, as Wilder has acknowledged, United have developed a suicidal streak with five of the seven goals conceded this season coming from errors of judgement. At the other end of the pitch, Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp are both fine centre-forwards but have yet to suggest they can forge a proper partnership. Marc McNulty, who embellished his reputation during a spell on loan at Portsmouth last term, deserves an opportunity after starting all of United’s last four matches on the bench.
“That’s two games on the bounce where we’ve given the opposition a lift,” Wilder said. “I don’t see anyone giving us a lift. We have to make sure people work hard for anything they get against us. When we have given ourselves a lift, we’ve not made the most of it.”
“It’s unacceptable in terms of people looking at me because it’s my group,” Wilder added. “And it’s unacceptable in terms of me looking at my players. Yes, you can break down certain things with the goals. But it can’t happen that you’ve handed the game to the opposition after 15 minutes as we did (against Southend).”
Millwall will also be smarting after losing 5-1 to Peterborough two days ago.
“Mentality is one of the biggest things,” Wilder said. “And if you haven’t got that mentality to deal with things like that, then you won’t succeed. Full stop. I’m finding out about them all the time, without a doubt.
“And I’m finding out about players that I’ve brought in too. Many of them have played at big clubs so they’ve got the technical side. They’re capable of that.”