If people expected sentiment they were sorely disappointed.
He might have spent six years in charge of Oxford but, as journalists discovered during yesterday’s pre-match media briefing, Chris Wilder does not do trips down memory lane.
“I’ve been at many teams in my career,” the Sheffeld United manager said. “I’ve had decent periods at all of them.
“So this is just another game. Another chance to try and win three points for my club which, as everybody knows, this has always been.”
Despite collecting only one since being appointed earlier this summer, Wilder was in determined rather than downbeat mood when he previewed tomorrow’s fixture at Bramall Lane. Yes, he acknowledged, United have not made the start he was hoping for. But no, the situation is not irretrievable yet.
“We have to look at all areas and see what we can do,” Wilder said. “It’s frustrating because we’ve not been smashed by anybody. I can’t think of a game where we’ve been totally ‘done.’ But, in a sense, that only makes it more annoying because, tee to green, I think we’ve been alright. It’s the individual errors which are killing us. That and failing to kill people off.”
Wilder’s attempts to turbo-charge an attack which, on paper at least, appears one of the best in the division were dealt a blow when Marc McNulty tweaked a hamstring during training this week. With concerns about Leon Clarke’s fitness and the form of Billy Sharp, the Scot was being considered for a starting role against Michael Appleton’s side.
“Marc will miss out,” Wilder confirmed. “He’s likely to be out for a couple of weeks. Leon was a doubt for Millwall last weekend but he said he was okay to take part and we thought it was right he led the line. He should train before this one and we’re monitoring him.”
“Marc is in my mind,” Wilder added. “He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t. As I said during pre-season, we’ve got some good forwards here. Admittedly, they need to do better individually and as a unit. But they are good players. The forwards, when we get into the right positions, need to finish teams off because that puts a completely different slant on things. The players who haven’t been playing should be ready to say ‘this is my opportunity’ because, the reality is, we haven’t scored enough goals.”
Unfortunately, as Jack O’Connell’s last minute handball proved six days ago, United are not so penurious about gifting them to opposition teams. The visitors were on course to claim a deserved draw at The Den until the defender inexplicably punched Shane Ferguson’s cross. It was a ‘Phil Jagielka’ moment from the young centre-half.
“I’ve got to look at everything,” Wilder said. “Are the players we’ve brought in good enough to stay in the team? Are the players already here good enough to be in the team? Is the formation right? Are the combinations right? But, yes, we’ve got to stop killing ourselves with individual errors. Some of them, like the other day, you just can’t explain. What was going through his head? Jack probably didn’t know, at the exact moment, either. But I’m not going to kill careers here because the errors are uncharacteristic. We do, though, have to cut those errors out.”
“You saw what happened here with Jags (against Wigan Athletic) on the final day of the Premier League season a few years ago,” Wilder added. “It showed that players can play for England, be at the absolutely top of their profession and still be capable of doing things that make you think ‘wow, what was that.’ It was a poor decision in line with other poor decisions that have been made.”
Wilder, who won the Conference play-off final with Oxford in 2010, insisted he would not shy away from taking “big decisions” as United look to improve their results.
“We’ve made one already,” Wilder, highlighting the arrival of goalkeeper Simon Moore from Cardiff City, said. “People know that we won’t shy away from that. Equally, we won’t make knee jerk ones. We’ve taken the game to good teams like Bolton Wanderers and Millwall so we are doing something right. I don’t believe we’ve had the rub on occasions either. But I’m not going to deflect attention away from the fact that one point from four (matches) and the number of goals we’ve scored isn’t good enough. Not for me, the players, the supporters or this football club. Nobody is untouchable with the start we’ve made.”
Oxford won promotion after finishing as runner-up in League Two last term. Wilder, who lifted the title with Northampton Town before joining United, said: “The only thing I’m looking at is the game from my point of view and our point of view. Nothing else at all. We want to give our fans something to hang onto because they’ve not had much recently in terms of points and results.”