Chris Wilder has joked he could be forced to take drastic measures after Sheffield United’s defensive crisis worsened on Wednesday night.
Phil Jagielka’s contentious red card for denying Anwar El Ghazi a goal scoring opportunity during the second half of the 1-0 win against Aston Villa means he must now serve a suspension.
The 38-year-old joins the injured Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell and John Egan in being unavailable to Wilder, prompting the Blades boss to sarcastically suggest that striker Oli McBurnie will line up in central defence against Southampton on Saturday.
“It’s ridiculous the problems we’ve got there,” said Wilder. “Oli Mac, he’s there, up against Danny Ings on Saturday, big Oli, there you are giving my team away – who else can I pick?
“Oli Mac, the big Scottish centre-half, he might have to go in there. He was like Richard Gough at the end after he came on, heading everything away and helping us get across the line.
“Joking aside, I’m not sure what we will do. But we will have to come up with something because it’s head down and get on with it, the same as always.”
Wilder’s team showed there is fight left in them yet after battling with 10 men for more than half an hour to win against Villa.
David McGoldrick’s first-half goal put the bottom-of-the-table Blades in front but they faced an uphill task to hang on to that lead following Jagielka’s 57th-minute dismissal.
But the remaining 10 Blades stood firm and defended solidly and will feel they have kept alive their faint hopes of pulling off the greatest of escapes.
The Blades still have a 12-point chasm left to bridge in the remaining 11 matches, but the desire they displayed on Wednesday night will stand them in good stead.
“They showed great character and had an unbelievable desire to keep the ball out of the back of the net,” said Wilder.
“That’s not coachable. It’s about what’s in here (heart). Not always about showing down the outside or the art of defending, it’s just a huge desire.
“And I have to be critical, we have not done that enough this year.”
Villa, meanwhile, still harbour hopes of European qualification but must show they are capable of winning without captain Jack Grealish, absent again at Bramall Lane with a lower leg injury, if those ambitions are to be realised.
Boss Dean Smith is looking for a response from his players against local rivals Wolves at the weekend.
He said: “It’s a setback. It’s a three-game week where you can pick up a lot of points if you’re putting the performances in.
“Last Saturday was a good performance and a good win but (against Sheffield United) we gave away a soft goal and come away with nothing when we should have had a point at the least.
“I’m not concerned, we have to overcome the disappointment quickly. We have to bounce back now. It’s a local derby and a chance to do the double over Wolves.”