Despite the defeat at QPR, being in the top three after fifteen matches is beyond the wildest dreams of probably all Blades fans, even though there was unusual optimism before the start of the season.
Normally so pessimistic that there isn’t even a glass, never mind a half-full one, Blades supporters - buoyed by last season’s spectacular achievements - recognised the confidence surging through a squad strengthened by astute, if not big-name, signings, and somehow knew that a decent season was in store. ‘Decent’ meant for most comfortable safety, a top-ten finish a distinct possibility and a flirtation with the play-offs if everything went particularly well. I’d wager that the top two never entered anybody’s heads, maybe not even that of the perennially positive Chris Wilder.
Wilder has the uncanny knack of knowing what to say, in public anyway. What he says in private to his players we cannot know, but his press interviews are always straightforward enlightening and often surprising. When you hear the gibberish spoken by Carlos Carvalhal (OK, I appreciate that English isn’t his first language) and remember the utter nonsense spouted most weeks by Nigel Adkins, you are drawn to always listen when Wilder speaks.
So when he praises his players to high heaven after losing at Nottingham Forest and brings them back down to earth with his “decidedly average” comment following the win at Leeds and then denies he’s playing mind-games, you have to believe him. To me and many others, United played pretty well in Nottingham but Forest looked like scoring every time they attacked, whilst United were brilliant for half-an-hour a Leeds and came on strong again at the end of the game. For Wilder, though, we gave the ball away far too much and can play much, much better. Then it was a deserved defeat at QPR. If Wilder insists he’s “telling it as I see it”, who are we to argue?
One of the few things that’s worse than last season is United’s disciplinary record. It’s not bad by any means, but last season we had nobody suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards and only Chris Basham sent off, and that somewhat unluckily. This season Leon Clarke lost his rag against Barnsley, Paul Coutts and John Fleck have been suspended for collecting five bookings, and Enda Stevens is one away from the same fate. The only explanation I can think of is that the players are having to make more challenges against the better opposition they are facing now. But Wilder probably isn’t too fussed - that ‘s why he’s assembled a squad with two good players for every position. However the season ends up, it’s a memorable one already.