Alan Biggs: After a sticky start, how cool heads set Sheffield United on track to promotion glory

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp is mobbed after coming off following Sheffield United's promotion
Sheffield United's Billy Sharp is mobbed after coming off following Sheffield United's promotion
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Sometimes you’re doing all right when it all seems to be going wrong. And there’ve been times across six years of purgatory when Sheffield United did the wrong thing to put things right.

Four games into this season and bottom of League One was not one of those. The Blades had little choice but to stick by new boss Chris Wilder - but that’s not the point.

By Pete McKee

By Pete McKee

It’s what he did that counted. Practically nothing. A tactical tweak and no panic.

Around that time a friendly text pinged into Wilder’s phone. It was from a famous former United player, among a circle of ex pros sounded out on a regular basis.

“I remember texting Chris and saying ‘do the things that you know gets you somewhere,’” says Len Badger. “Just because it’s not happening now ...believe in what you believe in ...that got you results at Northampton.

“I think he took a little bit of that advice and has not looked back.”

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp and Paul Coutts celebrate promotion in the dressing rooms

Sheffield United's Billy Sharp and Paul Coutts celebrate promotion in the dressing rooms

Advice, by the way, that the board have not always heeded in their appraisal of managers. It was around that time, too, that directors were again feeling the heat.

“I remember getting a bit of abuse in the directors box,” admits board member Martin Green. “I think it was just frustration. But we obviously had confidence in Chris.”

So did the man himself, steeled by good counsel. And so did the players. It’s a core of steely belief that has galvanised the Blades’ return to the Championship.

At the centre is something Green believes to be “unique in football.” Namely: “Owner, born in Sheffield, Sheffield United fan. Manager, born in Sheffield, Sheffield United fan. Captain, born in Sheffield, Sheffield United fan.”

That cast iron link between Kevin McCabe, Chris Wilder and Billy Sharp can be taken for granted. It’s more the strength of the connection between McCabe and joint club owner Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that supporters have pondered and fretted over.

I believe there was some strain in it last season. Genuinely not now. Expect the Prince to flex financial muscle again. “He watches every game, and he’s got a fantastic relationship with Kevin,” insists Green, revealing they recently met in Paris, “talking about next season, planning for the future.”

Wilder has also spoken to chief executive Stephen Bettis “about players for next season” and a board meeting at the end of this month will ratify plans. Says Green: “It’s obvious there will be strengthening and there will be money available for that to happen.”

But without casting aside the financial ethics of this season during which, adds Green, “we’ve been very shrewd, paying sensible money whereas in the past we’ve been guilty of paying ridiculous wages. I think this year we’ve got it right and that’s to do with Chris. I think the board have backed him on every player he wanted and we’ve been sensible. No-one’s going to mug Sheffield United again and it’s a continuation of that.”

Keep doing the right thing and you can’t go wrong. For instance, a new deal for Wilder is surely a formality. Congratulations to all at Sheffield United.