Chris Wilder admits he thought someone was “having a laugh” at Sheffield United’s expense when his team were paired with Walsall in the Carabao Cup.
But nine months after Jon Whitney’s side condemned the eventual League One champions to a rare defeat at Bramall Lane, the United manager has revealed November’s meeting between the two clubs was the subject of a behind-closed-doors inquiry after his coaching staff complained about the standard of officiating during the game.
“It did get ridiculous,” Wilder, reflecting upon the 1-0 reverse, said. “ We have an opportunity at the end of the game to put a report in to the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) regarding the decisions. I think they agreed, out of six decisions we questioned, on about four of them. We got the assessment back. It’s just to tighten up the officials.”
Walsall, who had already beaten United in the Checkatrade Trophy, went on to complete a hat-trick of victories over Wilder’s team by winning the return fixture in the Midlands 4-1. Speaking soon after his squad’s promotion to the Championship was confirmed, the 49-year-old admitted to being “glad we won’t be seeing Walsall again.” That was until the two clubs were pulled out of the hat together during June’s first round draw.
“I thought they were having a laugh,” Wilder joked ahead of tonight’s tie. “I thought someone is winding us up here.
“Joking aside, it’s just one of those things. In the first game we made changes, the second was one of the strangest I’ve ever been involved in, what with goals getting disallowed and stuff like that. The third, they had the confidence of beating us twice but I don’t think they did anything particularly special. It was an ‘off’ day for us and, to be honest, we’d happily have swallowed the situation with Walsall to have the season we did.”
Despite planning a number of changes to the starting eleven which beat Brentford 1-0 last weekend, Wilder insisted United still determined to progress. David Brooks, Daniel Lafferty and Jake Wright are all expected to start while Nathan Thomas, a summer signing from Hartlepool, is poised to make his debut. Walsall are without James Wilson, on-loan from United, after Wilder refused permission for the defender to take part.
“We go in wanting to play well and wanting to win; I never change my outlook on that,” he said. “To be a player or to be a manager or a coach, you have to have a desire to win at anything.”
“There’s a few who have missed bits of pre-season. There are others who have been very close to playing, like Jake Wright, Daniel Lafferty and David Brooks. We’ve got a couple of young ones we’ll give a game to and a couple of debuts we’ll give out. Nathan Thomas will make his debut in this.”