He has made no attempt to disguise the fact, with Sheffield United still challenging for promotion despite being hit hard by illness and injury, that reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup is not his top priority.
But Chris Wilder, speaking ahead of today’s third round tie against Ipswich Town, insisted he still expects his team to produce a performance at Portman Road despite planning a raft of changes.
“We are going to mix things up a bit,” the United manager said. “There will be opportunities for players who have not played a lot of football in the first team recently. But I still expect a decent performance.
“I am delighted we are coming into the FA Cup in January, rather than what it’s been like for the last six years in October/November. “We want to progress. Whoever puts the red and white shirt on, with the badge on it, I expect 100 per cent from them.”
Concerns about the depth of a squad missing the likes of Paul Coutts (broken leg) and David Brooks (glandular fever) meant it was inevitable Wilder would name a new-look starting eleven for the trip to Suffolk. But his selections have been complicated by the scheduling of United’s meeting with Sheffield Wednesday; which takes place at Bramall Lane on Friday. That means midfielders John Lundstram and Mark Duffy are unlikely to feature after sustaining slight knocks during the 1-1 draw at Derby County while Steelphalt Academy graduates Regan Slater and Rhys Norrington-Davies have been called-up.
Acknowledging that some players, particularly centre-forwards Clayton Donaldson and Leon Clarke, might prefer to maintain their rhythm before the Steel City derby, Wilder said: “This is possibly one of the toughest teams I am going to pick all season.
“I do know there are some players that possibly need games, but I know the importance of next Friday to everybody. I am not going to shy away that. Not just because it’s a local derby, but the position we are in in the league as well.
“League points are the priority, 100 per cent. We need to have half on eye on next Friday. I cannot take a risk with any of the injured ones, I might have to protect a couple of players.”
“Jake Wright, Daniel Lafferty, Caolan Lavery are going to play, a couple of others, and it will be a good opportunity for the younger boys,” he continued. “Regan Slater will be involved, possibly Rhys Norrington-Davies. They are good young players, and we expect them to progress. It’s a great experience for them.
“Not just the match itself but travelling away and being involved in the build-up; everything that goes with the game.”
Russell Osman, who helped Ipswich lift the trophy in 1978, last night claimed Wilder’s counterpart Mick McCarthy will be “demeaning” the club’s supporters if he names a weakened team. Insisting United’s selection policy is borne-out of necessity rather than choice - “Numbers are an issue for us” - Wilder said: “I don’t know Mick that well but he is someone who I have a great deal of respect for. We had a great chat with him and his staff when they came to our place in the league earlier this season.”
United won that match 1-0 and Wilder added: “You know that any team Mick puts out is going to be a tough proposition. He demands a lot from his players and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way it should be.”