Chris Wilder: Sheffield United will have to start ‘swinging punches’ to stay up

Chris Wilder at Sheffield United training on Tuesday
Chris Wilder is back at Sheffield United and was at training on Tuesday - Getty Images

Chris Wilder believes Sheffield United will need to start ‘swinging punches’ in order to stay in the top flight after returning to take charge of the Premier League strugglers.

Having been unveiled as Paul Heckingbottom’s successor ahead of Wednesday night’s game against Liverpool, Wilder inherits a squad of players languishing at the foot of the table after winning only one of their last 14 outings in the competition.

Heckingbottom was sacked in the wake of Saturday’s 5-0 defeat by fellow strugglers Burnley, a result which followed a 3-1 loss to AFC Bournemouth.

Insisting that performances rather than a lack of points are his greatest concern, Wilder said: “There’s been a little bit of a disconnect, over the past couple of games, between the players and the fans,” said Wilder, who is a lifelong supporter of the club and former player himself.

“I’ve reminded the players about what the work ethic is. We have to be brave, in and out of possession. It’s not about smashing people all over the place and getting booked or sent off.

“It’s about asking questions physically. If you sit on the ropes for four or five rounds then someone is going to land on you. You’ve got to swing some punches as well.”

Labelling commitment and desire as “non-negotiable”, Wilder added: “You’ve got to pull together and you don’t win games of football with your head in your lap. There is a little bit of trust and faith that’s been lost and the way we restore that is by putting in positive performances. It’s easy to talk about, though. You’ve got to go out there and do it.

“If you’re aggressive and on the front foot then the people here at this club will always back you.”

Wilder led United from League One to a ninth-placed top-flight finish during his previous spell as manager at Bramall Lane, before departing in March 2021 amid growing tensions with owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The two men are now on good terms, with chief executive Stephen Bettis describing Wilder’s appointment on an 18-month contract as a “decision for the long-term.”

Named LMA Manager of the Year in 2019 after guiding United to promotion from the Championship, Wilder insisted he returns as an even better coach following spells with Middlesbrough and Watford.

“I’m better for the experiences I’ve had,” he said. “I’ve worked at different clubs with different profiles. If you learn from things, you can be better for the experiences.”

Wilder is joined in South Yorkshire by his long-serving assistants Alan Knill and Matt Prestridge. Jack Lester, head of player development under Heckingbottom, has been retained while former Republic of Ireland international Keith Andrews has been added to United’s backroom staff.

Looking ahead to the meeting with Liverpool, Wilder said: “I’m under no illusions that this is an incredible game to be involved in, with 30,000-plus people under the lights at Bramall Lane.

“I’ve told the players: ‘This is like an FA Cup third-round tie and how would you approach it? You’d go out there and give it everything.’

“We’ve got to get the performance right. If we do that then we can be competitive.”