Opposition view: Wilder’s well oiled machine showing little sign of slowing
Ahead of Norwich City’s clash with Sheffield United, Chris Holt, football editor of the Sheffield Star newspaper, provides an insight into a successful season at Bramall Lane.
Just how much of a surprise has the success of this season been?
It's understandable that it's a big surprise to many on the outside because United had been off the Premier League radar for so long that few had really paid attention to what they were doing. For us here, we'd be lying if we said we saw this coming, however. We knew they'd be able to compete, that teams would find it difficult against them but I think a solid mid-table finish was what many, if not most, round here would have expected. Having said that, given what Chris Wilder has achieved, we shouldn't be surprised by anything.
How have United managed to adjust to the Premier League so well?
Good players working harder to make themselves even better. I think it's as simple as that. This team have a great bond and the fact that the line-up doesn't change too much also helps. People talk about telepathic partnerships between forwards or between a central defensive pairing...this team has that all over the park. With every movement there is a counter-movement. They are a well drilled, disciplined, superbly coached machine.
Are their fears that other clubs will be interested in Chris Wilder?
There's no doubt that others will be interested but I genuinely believe that he has no interest in going elsewhere. He has built a team, has been backed in a recruitment sense and given a contract extension of his own. I think it would take an absolutely massive job for him to leave.
Which players have been the star performers?
As I said, it's very much a team effort, but John Fleck has been outstanding in midfield along with Ollie Norwood who has proved to those Championship teams he won promotion with, but was then released by, that he can cut it in the top flight. The two wing-backs, Enda Stevens and George Baldock, have also been superb. Their energy is incredible.
And which areas of the team still need improvement?
They could probably do with a few more goals to help turn the draws here and there into wins but under the circumstances, asking for more of anything is a bit greedy!
Will the FA Cup become more of a priority now, or is the chance of European qualification the main focus?
There's no reason why they can't go at it on both fronts. Getting Arsenal at home in the quarter-finals isn't the worst draw in the world so there's an opportunity for progression there. They just keep picking up points in the league, too, and if they don't qualify for Europe through the league, they'll not have been off it by much.
Have you been surprised to see Norwich struggle this season?
A little. If I'm honest I expected them to be one of the teams fighting for most of the season but I thought there would have been a few teams worse than them.
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