WILDER’S BOYS ARE GOING UP AT LAST...
Blades promoted in style
THE longer the wait, the Wilder the promotion celebrations eventually are.
Six long years, five managers and three failed play-off campaigns later, the toast of Bramall Lane is undoubtedly Chris Wilder.
Back on the ground where he led Northampton to the League Two title amid a desperate battle for club survival, Wilder saw John Fleck score a dramatic 88th-minute winner to provide the perfect climax to his special day.
And now he has set his newlypromoted side the dream target of not only winning the title but claiming 100 points, one more than he managed with the Cobblers.
Wilder, who witnessed three pitch invasions from Blades fans said: “This club was drifting, it shouldn’t have been drifting – but I’ve come in and done my best.
“We’ve not only pulled it around on the pitch, we’ve done it off the pitch too.
“It didn’t matter to me where this happened. I just wanted to win a proper game of football and Northampton gave us that.
“I was disappointed with the first half. They deserved their lead.
“But the second half epitomised what this team is all about. We’ve got the ability to get off the canvas and turn losses into draws and draws into victories.
“(Northampton goalkeeper) Adam Smith had made some ridiculous saves but nobody could deny we deserved it in the end.
“We knew when it was 1-1 we were nearly there but the players wanted to press on and win it.
“The pitch invasions aren’t exactly what you would want but you’ve got to remember what these supporters have gone through over the last six seasons.”
More than 1,400 travelling Blades supporters – supplemented by 6,000 back at Bramall Lane – provoked an electric atmosphere, matched by the excitement and drama on the pitch.
To their immense credit, Wilder’s old boys wrested control after United’s lightning start saw Samir Carruthers clip the bar and both Jay O’Shea and skipper Paul Coutts send shots flying just wide, all inside nine hectic minutes.
Marc Richards volleyed over from eight yards from a superb
Brendan Moloney cross in the 11th minute and when early inspiration Daniel Lafferty harshly saw yellow the best news on offer for Blades hordes was an early set-back for rivals Fleetwood.
Michael Smith’s sharp shot was kept out by the diving Simon Moore in the 29th minute as Northampton maintained a measure of control.
Their opening goal in first-half injury time was stunning in all senses of the word. Richards worked an excellent one-two with fellow striker Smith before sending a right-footed cross-shot soaring over Moore.
Wilder’s interval move to bring on 26-goal Billy Sharp was always likely to inspire a Blades onslaught although the first danger came from an unlikely source.
Defender Jack O’Connell juggled his way into space deep inside the penalty area only for Smith to paw his shot to safety.
The equaliser came soon after as Northampton’s offside trap was sprung and Leon Clarke finished superbly with a rising shot. Cue pitch invasion number one.
Smith produced further heroics to deny Chris Basham, Sharp and Fleck before the Blades, inevitably perhaps, had the final word. Sharp’s approach play on the right was excellent and Fleck finished in style – cue invasion number two!
Northampton manager Justin Edinburgh said: “A draw would have been a fair result. We’ve gone head to head with the League One champions and very nearly got over the line for a very good point.
“Our players approached the game very well and I don’t think you’ll see a better goal all weekend.
“Congratulations to Sheffield United on their achievement and to Chris Wilder – he has had a fantastic two seasons.”
TOUCH OF CLASS: Leon Clarke celebrates scoring a sublime goal for Sheffield United
JACK THE LAD: Blades defender Jack O’Connell heads the ball
ON THE MARC: Marc Richards takes the applause