(Reuters) - Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder hopes his side’s pre-lockdown form continues when they visit Aston Villa on Wednesday for their first Premier League match in three months.
Three wins in their last four games had pushed United into contention for Champions League qualification before the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down the season in March.
Victory at struggling Villa would lift Wilder’s side above Manchester United into fifth spot, which this season is likely to be rewarded with a Champions League berth.
That would be a meteoric rise for the Blades who three seasons ago were playing in England’s third tier.
Wilder, however, knows that will require his players to hit the ground running after an unprecedented pause in the campaign.
“(The break) will have helped some clubs,” Wilder told reporters in a virtual news conference on Zoom. “I am not going to spin this around, we were on a good run.
“I am as intrigued and as hopeful as anyone that we can restart in the manner we left off, but we won’t know until we get rolling. We are ready to go.”
Villa versus United in a clash of promoted clubs would hardly have stood out on the fixture list earlier in the season.
But all eyes will be on Villa Park for the 1700GMT kickoff — the first match in the Premier League’s Project Restart which is guaranteed to have a massive live TV audience.
“First game back is going to be a little bit different. What we understand is the magnitude of the game, the coverage of the game,” Wilder said.
“You can’t get away from the fact that possibly Villa-Sheff Utd was a Championship game last year and would possibly have been seventh or eighth on Match Of The Day.
“Now it is 6pm on the TV and worldwide coverage. From our point of view we want to put on a good show and make sure we play well. Players will naturally want to play well and we want to do that as a football club.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris