Search icon


31st Dec 2021

Middlesbrough forced to face Sheffield United despite 19 positive Covid cases among players and staff

Wayne Farry

The club are set to recall players from loan spells

Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder is understandably furious after his side were told they would have to honour their Championship match against his former side Sheffield United despite 19 positive Covid cases among players and staff.

Ten staff members and nine players – seven of which Wilder says would have started against the Blades – have tested positive ahead of the game, but the EFL have insisted to the club that the fixture must be played.

It follows a decision this week by the EFL to bring an end to bring an end to game-day Covid-19 testing in an attempt to prevent last-minute postponements of fixtures.

Wilder, who joined Middlesbrough in November 2021, described the situation as “the most difficult 48 hours of his 20-year managerial career”, and hit out at the EFL for their unwillingness to show flexibility over the fixture.

“The blunt message we keep getting back from the EFL is ‘you have an obligation to fulfil this fixture’,” Wilder told BBC Tees.

“The game is on. We’ve talked to the EFL, who have told us we need to do everything we can to get it on.

“We have a number of players that are available and what they’ve wanted us to do is supplement that group with players out on loan. I can’t get my head around that.”

Wilder also revealed that the club would be looking to recall a number of players who are currently out on loan, in a bid to boost their options off the bench.

“I’ll be making a call to Steve Cooper to see if we can have Djed Spence back to sit on the bench. And the same with Lewis Wing. And Rumarn Burrell. We have players travelling down on their own to Sheffield.

“We’ll have to recall the likes of Stephen Walker, Lewis Wing.”

The recent spate of postponements due to depleted squad numbers from Covid-19 outbreaks and injuries has led many critics to question whether some clubs are using authorities’ newfound flexibility to acquire extra rest time for their teams.

Wilder acknowledged as much, but insisted that the outbreak in his squad is entirely legitimate.

“People have been cutting corners. We’re not. This is genuine. I’m not that type of manager, this isn’t that type of club,” he said.

“This is 100% a Covid outbreak. We have one injury, and he could play for 30 minutes. Let’s put the cards on the table. Will some clubs have bent the rules to dodge a fixture? In my opinion 100%.

“I’m a man of integrity and honesty. I will play a game anywhere against anybody on a level playing field. We have been absolutely decimated from a player and staff point of view.”