Graham Alexander has no qualms about describing his Scunthorpe team as “excellent” but Chris Wilder prefers a more understated approach.
Yes, the Sheffield United manager admitted ahead of tomorrow’s match at Glanford Park, things are going pretty well right for the visitors right now. But, even though they have won their last four League One games, there is still a long way to go before he begins speaking in hyperbolic terms.
“They’ve had a great start to the season but also got to recognise we are only four points behind them after the start that we had,” Wilder said. “Everyone talks about where you are going to be after 10 games and we want to put ourselves in a good position by then. It’s still early days but we’re in pretty decent nick.”
Despite Wilder’s cautionary tone - “Everytime you think you’ve cracked it in football, things have a habit of kicking you where it hurts” - United certainly are. Saturday’s victory over Peterborough lifted them to sixth in the table and to within spitting distance of their latest opponents who, having gone agonisingly close to reaching the play-offs last season, look set to mount a serious challenge again this term.
But Wilder, having signed 12 new players since taking charge 19 weeks ago, is convinced United are now a much resilient group than when Alexander encountered them in May. On that occasion, goals from Tom Hopper and Paddy Madden saw the north Lincolnshire club cruise to a 2-0 win at Bramall Lane during what proved Nigel Adkins’ final match at the helm.
“I do have that feeling that we’re a little bit tougher, a little bit stronger and a little bit more streetwise,” he continued. “And you need to be. You have to recognise the opposition will have periods of the game and you need to see them out. But they’ll be looking at us too. It should be an interesting game.”
Alexander, whose side is two points clear of second-placed Bolton Wanderers, was in awe of their performance during Tuesday’s goalless draw with Charlton Athletic.
“It was a tough game and Charlton are an excellent side but so are we,” he said. “It was two good teams going toe to toe with each other to win the game.”
United will hope pride comes before a fall although Wilder, speaking at their training complex yesterday, also paid tribute to the men from north Lincolnshire.
“Graham has done well there and it will be a difficult game,” he said. “We know that. But we can also make it a difficult game for them.”
Scunthorpe, who have not lost on home soil since hosting United in December, appear to have no fresh injury concerns ahead of a match Alexander has described as their “biggest of the season so far.” Wilder has confirmed Caolan Lavery should be available for selection after being withdrawn from an under-23 fixture on Monday as a precautionary measure. Fellow centre-forward Leon Clarke could also be recalled depending upon the results of a scan.