Sheffield United: Chris Wilder on the day Wigan Athletic relegated the Blades and how far both sides have come since then

What began as a trip down Memory Lane ended with Chris Wilder reaffirming his Sheffield United credentials and revealing, albeit accidentally, the most important ingredient of any successful club.

Friday, 26th October 2018, 7:07 pm
Updated Friday, 26th October 2018, 7:18 pm

"Yes, I was here for that game," Wilder, referring to Wigan Athletic's last but one visit to Bramall Lane, said. "When David Unsworth scored that penalty so send us down from the Premier League. I went with my pals and it wasn't a great day was it. But that was then and this is now."

Eleven years have passed since that meeting between the two clubs. But a match United only had to draw to preserve their top-flight status remains indelibly etched, not only into his memory, but every other supporter of the South Yorkshire side .

Wigan Athletic manager and Chris Wilder's friend Paul Cook

Wilder, who followed the drama from the cheap seats rather than comfort of a box, insists revenge will not be on his agenda when the two clubs renew their rivalry on Saturday. "It wasn't personal. It was footballers doing their jobs"

But, tracing the respective journeys of the two sides since, he made an important admission about what a manager requires to extract every drop of potential out of their squads.

"They, Wigan, have had some really good times haven't they," he said, reflecting upon 2013's FA Cup triumph and subsequent appearance in Europe.

"I remember Stoke City, who have just come out of the top flight and who we played the other day, being in the old Division Two.

'I remember Wigan being in Division Three when we came up.

"If the owners have the ambition to drive it forward, that's what can happen.

'But yes, I know Wigan have spent time down in League One just like us."

United had spent five seasons in the third tier and were preparing for a sixth when Wilder was appointed 29 months ago.

Delivering promotion at the first time of asking, he led them to the brink of the play-offs last term while they prepared for today's fixture third, level on points with leaders Leeds, after drawing with City in midweek.

Despite insisting he does not bear a grudge, Wilder's friend and opposite number Paul Cook will be aware the 51-year-old does not take slights against United lightly.

Particularly, after also representing them as a player, since being appointed to the top job.

"I'm always desperate to get a result," Wilder said.

"But particularly here because otherwise I know Cooky will be in my office having a beer until about 10 o'clock at night.

"Joking aside, he's a top bloke. A proper football bloke and the right manager for that club.

'I've always enjoyed his company and, after this one, wish him all the best."

Although they start the contest as underdogs after losing five in a row on the road, Wigan's Wembley exploits demonstrate what can be achieved if everyone, from bootroom to boardroom, is on the same page.

With the January transfer window fast approaching, the message is particularly pertinent at United where co-owners HRH Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Kevin McCabe are both vying for control.

Ensuring their differences do not hamper Wilder's ability to make the necessary adjustments, particularly as many of United's rivals begin planning major recruitment drives, will be of critical importance at such a pivotal stage of the campaign.

It is a trick the two men performed over the summer and must do so again.

"I'm proud of what the boys are doing," Wilder, who has refused to get involved in politics since agreeing his new contract, said.

"And I've told them that this week.

'We've got to carry on doing the same things, playing well, showing the same attitude and trying to pick up points."