CRACKING DERBY TO SAVOUR AS BLADES CELEBRATE TITLE
AHEAD of what is certain to be a huge homecoming party for his title-winning heroes, Chris Wilder admits the enormity of Sheffield United’s achievement is only likely to sink in when the players run out before kick-off.
The Blades host Bradford City in front of the live Sky cameras with the championship already secured thanks to their Good Friday win over Port Vale and Bolton Wanderers’ defeat at Oldham Athletic the following day.
A bumper crowd is expected for a derby encounter that has big ramifications for the promotionchasing Bantams and Wilder, a lifelong United fan, admits today is likely to be an emotional one.
“Our success hasn’t sunk in yet,” the 49-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “I have said to a few people in the past week that I don’t think it will until we next play at home.
“We have had glimpses of what it means to the fans, we were back at Bramall Lane on the Saturday night after Northampton (when promotion was sealed nine days ago) and there was a supporters’ club night on.
“So, we got a taste of what promotion means to the fans. I also went out on the Sunday and saw a few of my pals, and they were all delighted.
“But I don’t think we will see exactly what it means until the Bradford game. The day should be something special.
“Bradford need to get something to reach the play-offs, while we want to finish strongly. It should be a cracking game and a great atmosphere – and if it is anything like the first game at Valley Parade (that finished 3-3 in October) then everyone is in for a real treat.
“That was a great game of football played between two teams who were determined to win. I would imagine this will be the same.”
The weekend results brought United their first title success in 35 years.
That came in the old Fourth Division at the end of a season in which the Bantams were also promoted in the runners-up spot. A repeat is still a possibility this time around, even if secondplaced Bolton hold a four-point advantage over the Bantams in fourth place.
As for the play-offs, Stuart McCall’s men need just four points to guarantee a second tilt at winning promotion via Wembley in as many years, something that Sheffield-born Rory McArdle believes is good news for not just Bradford but the whole county.
“Yorkshire football is bouncing at the moment with so many teams doing well,” said the defender. “Doncaster have been flying in the league below us, as have Sheffield United in League One.
“I also look at the Championship and so many clubs from the county are doing well. Huddersfield Town are having a huge season, as are quite a few others.
“That is why it would be great if we could get a few more Yorkshire sides in the Championship. The rivalries are huge and the derbies are always great.”
Striker James Hanson, who left Valley Parade for the Lane in a £150,000 deal last January, is expected to line up against his former club.
McArdle added: “In my time here, ‘Hans’ was the one who had been here the longest and someone we all went to.
“As friends, we have chatted since he left. We spent a lot of time together on the coach and at the training ground so I am pleased things have worked out for him.”
United manager Wilder, meanwhile, will today be rightly lauded for his work in ending the club’s six-year stay in League One.
He added: “On a personal level, it will be an emotional day for me. It was at Northampton last week, and the emotions were all there against Coventry in our last home game, too.
The atmosphere in the ground that night was unbelievable, especially for a midweek game. It just felt like we were on the verge of something special.”
Asked about the chant ‘he’s one of our own’ that has been sung at Wilder by fans during the run-in, the former Lane ballboy added: “Having my name sung like that is great recognition from the fans and I really do appreciate it.
“I know this club and the supporters. I also know the game pretty well and know things don’t always go right.
“That is why we have to enjoy moments like this, as they don’t come along too often.
“This promotion was always going to be that bit more special to me and something that meant that little bit more because of my connections with the club. Having said that, this is not over yet.”
It hasn’t sunk in yet... The day should be something special. Blades chief Chris Wilder after Bolton’s defeat secured them the title.
BRADFORD CITY manager Stuart McCall last night insisted the January transfer of James Hanson to champions Sheffield United was a “win-win” for both clubs.
The Blades striker will today meet his former club for the first time since calling time on his seven-and-a-half year stint at Valley Parade.
Manager Chris Wilder’s faith in Hanson has since been rewarded by United going on to clinch promotion and the title, following Bolton’s defeat at Oldham, while City were able to use the initial £150,000 payment to partfinance their own acquisition of Charlie Wyke.
His seven goals in 14 starts have helped keep the Bantams not only on course for the play-offs, but also in with a chance of sneaking into the top two, which is why McCall feels the surprise departure of Bradford-born Hanson to Bramall Lane has worked in the favour of both Yorkshire clubs.
“Charlie has been everything we hoped he would be and more,” the Valley Parade chief told The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s televised derby.
“He was always on the radar, but I had never managed to see him live. The plan was to look at Charlie in the flesh for Carlisle a couple of times between now and the end of the season with a view to possibly signing him in the summer.
“But then a twist came when we got a bid out of the blue from Sheffield United for James Hanson. That meant we needed to react quickly and bring someone in to replace James. Charlie was the one we wanted.”
City’s pursuit of Wyke proved to be a drawn-out affair despite a release clause in the striker’s contract at Brunton Park being triggered by the League One club bidding £250,000.
The Cumbrians initially refused to confirm or deny the presence of the clause and the deal stalled amid talk of interest from other clubs, including one in the Championship.
McCall, however, stood firm and, shortly before the January window closed, finally got his man. His patience has since been rewarded by a string of impressive displays from Wyke that have left his manager delighted.
“The deal went on longer than we anticipated, but he has done really well,” added the former Scottish international.
“His goals record is good, but it is his all-round play, too, that we like. Even in training when we are working on possession, he is good. Strikers are usually not the ones that stand out because their skills are elsewhere. But Charlie does.
“He is strong, links play well and is good in the air. He is a good old-fashioned centre-forward and a good finisher. I have been really pleased with him and long may it continue.
“Charlie is an unassuming lad who won’t get ahead of himself. He is from the north east and his feet are on the ground. A great lad to work with.”
Bradford’s gain has very much been Carlisle’s loss with Keith Curle’s men having slipped from third place on the day Wyke, who netted 12 times in 29 league appearances for the Cumbrians this term, moved south to seventh today. Since his departure, Carlisle have netted just 11 times in 14 outings.
McCall added: “You do your homework and speak to people. I did that, so did Greg (Abbott, head of recruitment) and others.
“But, until you work with a player, you never truly know them. And, in that respect, he has been a big bonus for us.
“The bottom line is we needed goals. The performances were there, but not necessarily the results.
“It has been a win-win January for both us and Sheffield United, who have now won promotion with James.
“As for ourselves, we have a younger James Hanson. The owners have said from day one they want to bring younger players in and develop them. Charlie falls into that category, as does Alex Jones.
“I say young, but Charlie has played a lot of football and that is a big help because we lost a lot of experience in the window – Nathan Clarke, Filipe Morais, James Hanson and Matthew Kilgallon was injured.
“When you play in front of 17,000 and are used to a lot less, it can be difficult. But Charlie took to playing in front of big crowds really well. Alex Jones is the same, as is Alex Gilliead.
“We went down the younger route with potential, but with good senior lads already here, as they are needed.
“You have to be careful you have the right balance when at a clubs like this because of the expectation that can be there.”
JAMES HANSON: His move helped Sheffield United win the title and Bradford City to recruit striker Charlie Wyke from Carlisle.