Way back in August, when the season was less than a month old and the Checkatrade Trophy had yet to darken Chris Wilder’s doorstep, it would have taken a brave punter to predict that Sheffield United would be celebrating promotion less than 40 matches later.
Bottom of the table after a heart-breaking defeat at Millwall and still searching for their first win of the campaign, the club appeared destined to spend this summer planning another year in League One rather than trips to places such as Aston Villa, Derby County and, almost certainly, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
Wilder, however, remained adamant that results would come. Indeed, as his team prepares for its first appearance since securing a top two finish, he revealed coaching staff always suspected things would come good.
“The start didn’t affect us because of the strength of the group and the strength of the staff,” he said. “We didn’t feel a million miles off but obviously one point from 12 wasn’t good enough. We needed to do a bit of tweaking here and there but you have to do that right the way through a season; we’re doing little things different now to what we were doing in January.”
United recorded their first win of the Wilder-era against Oxford. They claimed their 26th at Northampton Town, another of this former clubs, to guarantee Championship football last weekend.
“The first win was massive and we needed that,” Wilder continued. “But from then, we’ve got a belief and the supporters have got right behind us. They’ve enjoyed what they’ve seen on the park and we’ve grown as a team. We’ve developed on the pitch and also off it too.”
United’s switch to a three man defence, implemented before the meeting with Michael Appleton’s side, proved the catalyst for their upturn in fortunes. Despite being viewed as a knee-jerk response to his squad’s disappointing results, Wilder (inset) had in fact spoken privately about his desire to utilise that system after taking charge in May.
“We really just looking at ourselves,” Wilder, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Port Vale, said. “Of course, when other results come in, I’m not going to be daft. When Sheffield United results come in, what will other staff elsewhere be doing if we dropped points? That’s just a natural reaction. But we’ve not been given anything. We’ve earned and deserved them all.”
United will surely seal the title if, nine points clear of second-placed Bolton Wanderers, they triumph at Vale Park.
“We want,” Wilder said, “To see the job through.”