Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder refused to blame a Covid-19 outbreak at the club for the latest defeat of a trying Premier League season and predicted it was a situation that would become increasingly commonplace as the country continues to battle the pandemic.
Rock-bottom United went down 1-0 against Burnley, Ben Mee rising highest to settle game in the first half at Turf Moor, having found out earlier in the day that two players and a handful of their backroom team had contracted the virus.
Wilder made it clear neither he nor the club made any appeal to have the fixture postponed – but the issue might have been taken out of his hands had one other squad member with symptoms of illness not returned a negative test on Tuesday morning.
Defeat left the Blades nursing a dismal record of two points from 16 games heading into the new year, but Wilder was stoic in the face of on and off-field pressures.
“We have lost two or three players and lost half a dozen staff as well. But there’s no excuses,” he said.
“They weren’t available but we had enough to go out there and get a result and we didn’t. We’re in this position because we haven’t done enough from a football point of view.
“It (the virus) is picking up and it’s running high at football clubs. This is the start of something, the numbers are saying so.
“But I want to play football. I know the Premier League will do their best, we’ll do our best as a football club to keep going because nobody is looking for an exit, nobody is looking for the season to be canned.
“The Premier League knew all about the positive tests, they knew we possibly had a situation this morning where one of the players had to go and get tested because he was showing signs and he was in contact with some players and that would have wiped the team out.”
Burnley boss Sean Dyche saw his side open up a five-point gap over the relegation zone at the full-time whistle, but he too was forced to ponder matters away from the field of play.
Reports have stepped up a notch regarding the mooted takeover of the club by American sports investors ALK, with talk of a deal being completed in a matter of days.
Dyche would surely like that saga to come to a close but was clear that he was not involved in any talks on the subject.
“It really seems to be big news to everyone else, apart from the board of the club letting me know,” he said of the possible deal.
“It’s big news for everyone except the manager. I still don’t know anything. When I have definite knowledge that the thing is done then there will be a discussion, until then there won’t.”
Reflecting on the setback that sees the Blades become the first team since Bolton in 1902-03 to see in the new year without a top-flight victory in England, Wilder blamed a lack of quality in key areas rather than a lack of desire.
“They did enough to get their noses in front and see the game out, so it’s a great result for Sean and his team and not so much for me and mine,” he said.
“We’ve lost 11 out of 14 by a single goal and that doesn’t show me there’s an attitude problem, it’s a lack of cutting edge. We were disappointing yet again in that final third.”