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Sheffield United

Sheffield United cannot afford to lose Chris Wilder after exit hints

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After a second half of the season collapse has cost Sheffield United any hope of a shot at back to back promotions, manager Chris Wilder has hinted that things could get even worse.

The popular coach suggested that his future at Bramall Lane is anything but certain, despite extending his contract last summer. Uncertainty from the club’s owners has drawn criticism from the manager after his side were beaten by Preston on Saturday.

“It’s 100 per cent critical it gets resolved, I can’t do my job properly unless there is a direction and decision from the owners,” Wilder said as he spoke to the Yorkshire Post.

“Any club that wants to be successful has to have harmony, direction and a plan. There isn’t a plan, there isn’t direction, and there isn’t harmony. That’s a fact.

“I won’t use that as an excuse for us possibly not delivering (on the pitch). This is a brilliant club which is close to my heart, and I want it to move forward in our own way.

“I want to lead it, but I need a bit of help. I am the only voice that comes out of the football club. There’s a lot of things which need to happen, soon, quick.

“It’s not just me, and what my future holds, what is the direction and message to the good players that we’ve got. Are we moving forward? They need to see things happening.

“I really shouldn’t be talking about any of this, and if people don’t like it, they have to deal with it. This is my city, my football club. I have worked extremely hard to get in this position, I am ambitious, and I believe in the ability of myself and the staff.

“I want to go forward with this football club. But I can’t do it all on my own. If it stays the same I don’t think anybody would be surprised if I didn’t question where my career is going.

“I want my career to go forward, progress my career, the careers of the staff and the players – and most importantly give the supporters some hope we can have a genuine football club with a strategy and plan to move forward.”

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The ex-Northampton boss has led the team back to where they belong after successive high profile managers failed to restore the Blades to the second tier, let alone competing at the top end of it, and his team have put the building blocks in place for further success.

An experienced coach in the lower leagues, Wilder has been linked to a number of jobs over the past year with West Brom becoming the latest side to have him amongst the favourites to take up the reigns, according to OddsChecker.

Wilder’s tactical style and strong playing squad has been fundamental to the success over the past two seasons and a new coach would mean that the club would have to start again from scratch, once again throwing the club into the realms of uncertainty that cost them their spot in the Championship to begin with.

If Sheffield United are serious about one day returning to the top flight in the near future, they must ensure that Wilder is the man to lead them there, and that means doing whatever it takes to persuade him that he is not alone in his leadership of the club.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

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Brentford

Who will win the race for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs?

The Championship play-offs are just around the corner.

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The Championship is a league renowned for its unpredictability and twists and turns in what is a 46 game long season.

On any given weekend, any team can beat another which makes it one of the closest and exciting leagues in the world.

This season has proved no different, with six teams still competing for a play-off place with just six games to go.

In 5th place currently is Derby on 68 points, three points clear of 7th placed Millwall with a game in hand.

They are at the moment the favourites to secure a play-off spot, with the top three having already practically guaranteed their places if they do not gain automatic promotion.

Aston Villa look to set to join them, with a maximum of eight points needed from their last five games to be sure of making the play-offs.

Gary Rowett’s side have bounced back well from the loss of Johnny Russell in January to the MLS and a string of first-team injuries that have decimated the squad in recent months.

Most of their stars, including Tom Huddlestone and Joe Ledley, returned for their 1-0 away win over Preston on Easter Monday, a result that was desperately needed.

They followed that up with a 3-0 win over Bolton at the weekend, and the goals of Matej Vydra plus the defensive experience of Curtis Davies and Scott Carson should see them over the line.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Two points behind them in 6th is Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough, who have seen an upturn in form since the former West Brom man took over in December.

Pulis is known for his defensive style of play but Middlesbrough have scored plenty since he came in, with Adama Traore in particular impressing.

A club like Boro will be expecting play-offs as a minimum, and you would expect them to achieve that goal given the quality of their squad, although even if they don’t get there this season, they will be one of the favourites to go up next season under Pulis.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

The surprise package of this season has been Millwall, with Neil Harris leading his side to an unexpected 7th place berth at this stage of the season.

The Lions have only lost one game all season, that being on New Years’ Day at Norwich.

They have relied on a mixture of youth and experience, with younger players like Jake Cooper, Jed Wallace and George Saville complemented by the likes of veteran Steve Morison, and an immense run of form has given them every chance of making the play-offs, which would be a remarkable achievement.

Most fans surely would have been happy with a mid-table finish on their return to the Championship, but they have defied expectations so far.

They face tricky trips to Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, and home games against Fulham and Aston Villa, but win at least a couple of those and the Lions could be roaring at the end of the league season.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Behind them on 62 points is Bristol City, who have had a mixed run of form since the turn of the year.

They briefly went 2nd in the table after a Boxing Day win against Reading, just a week after Lee Johnson’s side defeated Manchester United to reach the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

They eventually lost on aggregate to Manchester City after giving them a stern test, but have only won twice since then.

Like Millwall, they too face a trip to the Riverside to play Middlesbrough and host Sheffield United on the final day, but they are only four points off the top six and can still make it in.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Another side who had an excellent first half of the season is Sheffield United, Chris Wilder’s side briefly sitting in top spot after a 2-1 away win against Leeds in October.

They have fallen away since then, currently sitting 9th and behind Bristol City on goal difference, but regardless of whether they qualify for the play-offs or not, it has still been a good season for Wilder’s men.

They drew 1-1 with Cardiff last week, a game which they had the better chances in, showing the fine margins that exist in the Championship.

The Blades lost in the Yorkshire derby against Barnsley on Saturday, a result that puts them four points behind Middlesbrough.

They host Preston before the season is out, a game which could still prove crucial for both teams, and also play Bristol City and Millwall.

Brentford sit just one point behind them in 10th, having shown some resurgence in recent weeks.

Their transfer policy is a very effective one, using a stats model to sign players both from England and all around the world.

Some of their signings appear to be gelling together well, with summer signing Neal Maupay netting the winner in both of their previous two games.

Manager Dean Smith has been linked with Premier League jobs in the past, and has done an excellent job at the Bees, who will surely be challenging at the end of the season.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The final team that have a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs is Preston North End, Alex Neil’s side currently occupying 11th place on 60 points.

They have lost their last three league games, although they were unlucky to lose against Derby and had the fair share of possession and chances against Reading.

Neil’s side face only one team out of the top 11 in the remaining fixtures – Sheffield United – which could work in their favour.

They have missed the firepower of top scorer Sean Maguire, who missed four months of the season due to injury, but his return has boosted the team, who have seen some outstanding performances already this season from the likes of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne.

If Neil’s side can get substantial points out of their remaining games, they still have a chance of qualifying for the play-offs, although like the teams above them up to 7th, will need to rely on Derby and Middlesbrough dropping points.

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Millwall

What can Sheffield United or Millwall expect from unsettled Southend midfielder Ryan Leonard?

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Southend United player of the year Ryan Leonard has submitted a transfer request and rejected an offer of a new contract at Roots Hall, Essex Echo reporter Chris Phillips has confirmed. The Essex Echo believe that both Sheffield United and Millwall are interested in the central midfielder.

Phillips believes that Sheffield United have already had a bid worth £500,000 rejected this week, but it seems unlikely that it has been enough to deter Chris Wilder in his pursuit of the former Plymouth Argyle youth product. Southend club chairman Ron Martin is determined not to allow him to leave, according to boss Phil Brown, but it seems it is only a matter of time until an agreement is reached.

Leonard has spent six years in south Essex since joining on a free transfer, and has come on leaps and bounds as he has developed from a weak right-back to a dominant central midfielder. First pushed into the middle of the park under Paul Sturrock, Phil Brown has brought his game on and deployed Leonard in a holding midfield role where he has had a huge influence over games.

There has been a change in style in Leonard’s game across the years, despite winning the club’s player of the year award on a record equaling three occasions. In 2013/14, Leonard focused his game around trademark driving runs forward from deep, looking to move his team forward or pounce on loose balls in and around the box. Along with that came a number of spectacular goals and an all round midfielder.

In more recent years, Leonard has seen his role become more defensive minded. Operating alongside Anthony Wordsworth, Leonard has protected his defence and allowed his midfield counterpart the freedom to roam forwards. Whilst the driving runs may be reduced, Leonard has shown himself to be one of the best in the Football League at breaking up attacks.

A real athlete, with high fitness levels and a great reading of the game, Leonard cuts attacks out and immediately looks to get his side forward. He is tactically astute and intelligent both on and off the ball, happily filling in for team-mates such as marauding right-back Jason Demetriou.

There is little doubt that Leonard can take his skills and apply them in the Championship. Despite having played just two seasons at League One level, the 25-year-old has already made himself one of the best players in the division. If he can replicate that kind of improvement in the second tier, it could only be a matter of time until he’s moving on to the Premier League.

It may not be easy for either Sheffield United or Millwall to agree a fee with Southend, with a bidding war not likely to help matters. However, Leonard does have just one year left on his current contract and has clearly had his head turned by interest from the newly promoted duo. Once a deal has been agreed, which seems highly likely, the victor will be getting a very reliable, very consistent and very effective player who will boss the midfield even at Championship level.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by SONICA Photography.

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Sheffield United

Are Sheffield United set to make their long-awaited return to The Championship?

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Since Sheffield United’s relegation to League One in the 2010/2011 season, The Blades have found it a challenge to get back to where the club feels they belong.

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When the club reached the Play-Off final having come third in the league in their first season in League One, it looked as though they may make an immediate return, but it wasn’t to be as they lost to Huddersfield on penalties. Since that dark day at Wembley, United have come close on a number of occasions, reaching the Play-Offs twice. The 2014/15 season included a sensational semi-final encounter with Swindon Town, which finished 7-6 to Swindon, on aggregate.

Six seasons in, though, and it looks as if this campaign may be one to remember for Sheffield United. In years gone by they have been admittedly inferior to the teams who have gone on to gain promotion, but this time they are the real front runners. With just eleven games left they are eight points clear of the dreaded play-offs – a satisfying yet vulnerable position to be in going into crunch time of the campaign.

The appointment of boyhood fan Chris Wilder, after his promotion season with Northampton, has been an inspired one. The noticeable, and in essence, key part of The Blades’ summer transfer window, came when Wilder brought in a number of proven League One quality players. Boosted by the sales of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Che Adams, which freed up the wage budget, The Blades boss was able to bring in players on loan, as well as a number of new faces on free transfers.

Mark Duffy – instrumental in Burton’s promotion last season – has been a terrific addition. The midfielder has six goals to his name so far. John Fleck and Jay O’Shea have also bolstered the club’s midfield options. John Fleck has secured the midfield, and on the topic of security, The Blades’ leaky defence has been fixed this season. Conceding goals has been their downfall in previous campaigns, but the acquisitions of Daniel Lafferty, Jack O’Connell, Jake Wright and Ethan Ebanks-Landell, have tightened things up in the defensive department.

The Blades have lost just six games all season. The foundations that saw Northampton promoted last season have been replicated at Sheffield United, and it is clear Wilder has made them tough to beat. The additions of players such as Duffy, O’Shea and James Hanson, has allowed Sheffield United’s talisman Billy Sharp to flourish. The striker has 24 goals this season, and there is still eleven games to play – a quite remarkable return from the front man.

Teams who go all the way have always had a goal scorer, and there were no question marks over Billy Sharp’s ability when he re-joined the club he loves. Look no further than teams to have been promoted from League One in the past couple years; Wigan’s Will Grigg, Preston’s Joe Garner, Barnsley’s Sam Winnall. Sharp is up there with those. He is in that bracket, and he, more than anyone, will want to see Championship football return to Bramall Lane. If he can carry continue in his rich vein of form, he will be the architect of doing so.

Although it would be surprising for Sheffield United to be a League One outfit next season, they do face a different challenge going into the end of the campaign. The club, and the players in the squad who have been their for the last few seasons have often been chasing the pack at this stage, knowing in the back of their minds they will most likely have to settle for the play-offs. This time round, The Blades face a different finale. They are the front runners. How they cope with that added pressure and expectancy will ultimately decide their fate. They have enough match winners and experience in the squad, not to make a meal of the situation. The manager knows what it took to see Northampton over the line and he will want to replicate those celebrations at Sheffield United, come May.

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