“WE need luck to go our way” are seven words regularly uttered and trotted out by managers before and during a season.
Whether it is avoiding injuries to key personnel or getting the rub of the green from officials, clubs hope the footballing gods shine on them every year.
While Sheffield United’s two chief rivals for the second automatic promotion berth in League One, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town, have sacked their managers in the last fortnight, Wednesday night was another stark reminder of how fortunate the Blades are to have such an experienced tactician in Danny Wilson at the helm.
Trailing 10-man Scunthorpe United 1-0 in midweek, United were booed off at the interval by their supporters, having produced an abject, lacklustre showing. The atmosphere was flat at Bramall Lane and the fans needed lifting. Cometh the hour, cometh Wilson.
Many of Wilson’s players appeared to be suffering from a mental and physical hangover following the Steel City derby while the Iron were ‘up for it’, hunting in packs, closing down the opposition quickly and allowing the hosts no time on the ball.
“It is not every often teams have come here and played like that against us,” admitted Wilson. “I don’t think we were at the races.”
But the art of good management is recognising when you have made a mistake and rectifying it before it is too late. Some bury their heads in the sands, refusing to make the big calls or delay making the changes necessary. Some are re-active rather than pro-active. Wilson falls into the latter category.
He took off Austrian international Johannes Ertl and fans favourite James Beattie at half-time and brought on Stephen Quinn and Richard Cresswell. Decisive action was required and Wilson delivered.
“We had to get some tempo into our game,” said Wilson. “The two lads [who came off] could have been anyone. It didn’t have to be James or Johnny. It could have been anybody because the tempo and the passing was not there.
“We had to get some tempo and pace into the team and with Quinny and Cressy that’s what they do.
“Quinny on the ball shifts it quickly and Cressy’s pressing and closing down of defenders is absolutely top class and you saw the difference in the second half.”
Quinn featured prominently in the thrilling comeback. Shorn of the services of midfield playmaker Kevin McDonald due to injury, Wilson’s troops lacked ideas, creativity and penetration in the final third until the little Irishman entered the fray. Quinn freshened things up, injecting some pace and urgency into the hosts play.
So clever and crafty in possession, Quinn slipped a lovely pass into Ched Evans, who crossed for Lee Williamson to make it 1-1 before bagging the winner late on himself.
Wilson said Quinn was ‘disappointed’ to be left out but added: “We wanted to give him a little a break.
“Quinn and Cressy were both champing at the bit to play and they did the business for us.
“You have to give Scunthorpe credit because they were still a threat even down to 10 men.”
It is the second match in a row on home soil where United have fought back from a goal behind to claim maximum points. Now Wilson’s promotion-chasing side, who are five points clear of third-placed Wednesday with a game in hand, are seeking a ninth successive home win in the league when they entertain Oldham Athletic tomorrow. Remarkably, United have not dropped a single point at Bramall Lane since October 29 when they drew 4-4 against Exeter City.
Nonetheless, Wilson has warned his team not to get carried away, saying: “We have worked very hard to get to where we are and it is important we kick on and keep that gap or make it bigger.”
The Blades chief is poised to make multiple changes to his starting line-up. He is likely to recall Quinn on the left flank at the expense of Ryan Flynn while Will Hoskins, Cresswell and Beattie are vying to partner top scorer Ched Evans up front. Long-serving midfielder Nick Montgomery could return in the centre if he shakes off a calf knock.
Teams and ref
UNITED (possible): Simonsen; Lowton, Collins, Maguire, Jean-Francois; Williamson, Doyle, Montgomery or Ertl, Quinn; Cresswell or Hoskins, Evans (4-4-2).
OLDHAM (possible): Cisak; Lee, Tarkowski, Mvoto, Mellor; Morais, Adeyemi, Winchester or Taylor, Marsh-Brown; Simpson, Kuqi (4-4-2).
Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire): The official has dished out 88 cautions and nine red cards in 24 matches this season, including six yellow cards and one red in the Blades’ Sky-televised clash with Notts County.
One to watch
Keanu Marsh-Brown opened his goalscoring account for the Latics in their 1-1 draw with Colchester United. The pacy, skilful winger, released by Fulham in November, had a brief stint on-loan at Dundee United earlier in the season. He has represented England at under-19 level.
Second-half goals from Harry Maguire, his first in senior football, and Richard Cresswell saw United clinch a 2-0 victory at Oldham Athletic on the opening day of the season. The Latics have not won at United since January 1988.