Alan Biggs: Nothing odd about an odd-goal win for Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United

By Pete McKee
By Pete McKee

Your scribe noticed the trend at the time but has now run a check. The number of times Chris Wilder’s Northampton Town won by the only goal of the game last season on the way to the League Two title.

It was seven, not spectacularly high across 46 games, but then five of those one-nils were at the Sixfields Stadium and that’s just under a quarter of the home programme. The first of those wasn’t until four matches in, 1-0 v Oxford on September 12th.

Roll on to September 17th, 2016, and it was Sheffield United 1 Peterborough 0. This was United’s first clean sheet of the season – at the eighth attempt – but it was the margin of victory that stirred that echo with the manager’s former club.

Okay, so there’s lies, damned lies and statistics. But if I’m right about the way Wilder and Alan Knill are going about things there could be a fair number of similar scorelines to follow.

Not that this would indicate a negative approach, far from it, even though most Blades won’t care how promotion is finally won. Ironically, the often unfairly maligned Nigel Clough wasn’t exactly averse to a 1-0. But the manner of approach, then and now, is entirely different.

Clough liked to play home matches almost as away games, to suck teams into United’s half and hit them on the break.

United, under Wilder, are a team who’d like nothing better than to play the whole game in the opposition half. That’s the key distinction.

Another is the importance of the tearaway start and the early goal. The Blades achieved both against Posh, well carved out and executed by Matt Done, and by all accounts had the match under control even when under pressure.

Three of Northampton’s five home one-nils came with early goals; none were achieved with late ones. And, by the way, they totalled 82 league goals for the season.

Wilder has gone for a triple centre back system after the earlier fragility and, while there was some debate about keeping a more traditional shape at home, the ploy has made a good start at Bramall Lane, too.

Four successive wins suggest things are settling down nicely, as does a climb into sixth place. That’s where the “nicely” turns naughty, based on historical failures in the you-know-what. United are four points behind first place (ahead of visiting leaders Scunthorpe) and two behind second. Those have to be the target areas now.