AFTER the hullabaloo surrounding his appointment, charm offensives, politicking and PR drives, the prospect of actually playing some football must have felt like a blessed relief.
Saturday afternoon’s outing at Boundary Park did not disappoint for Sheffield United manager Danny Wilson as his team started the new League One season in perfect fashion.
Wilson, making his first competitive appearance in the United dug-out, has spoken at great length about transforming the visitors’ route one image since taking charge following their relegation three months ago.
But a quick glance at Oldham Athletic’s antiquated stadium confirmed this was an occasion for pragmatism rather than panache.
With flair players such as Lee Williamson and new loan signing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing left kicking their heels on the bench, Harry Maguire and Richard Cresswell, two of the most fearsome warriors at Wilson’s disposal, were responsible for supplying the goals which shattered the hosts’ spirited resistance.
“If anyone thought we were all ‘Big Time Charlies’ then we’ve shown them that they’re wrong,” said Cresswell. “We helped each other out and, if anyone got into a bit of trouble, the rest of the lads were right there beside them.
“There’s a really good vibe in the camp at the moment and I think it came across out there because we all stuck together.
“Last season, to be totally honest, was pretty devastating.
“We didn’t have any consistency, were in turmoil and, by and large, just didn’t perform.
“So of course everyone wanted to go out there and show what this great club is all about.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a really good career. I’ve played at Premier League level and a lot in the Championship too.
“But it doesn’t matter what division you are in. There’s no better feeling that winning matches.
“No one is getting carried away and we’ve spoken about that in the dressing room.
“But it is buzzing in there.”
Cresswell, who bravely doubled United’s advantage from close ranger soon after Maguire’s opener, has spent much of his career in South Yorkshire being deployed along the flanks. But, handed the central role he craves against Paul Dickov’s side, the former Leeds and Stoke City striker responded with a whole-hearted display which, in tandem with midfielders Stephen Quinn and Michael Doyle, helped lay the foundations for United’s success.
“Personally I do enjoy playing up-front and I feel that, if I’m asked to go there, then I’ll always score goals,” Cresswell, 33, said.
“There’s a lot of ageism in this business and you can get written off pretty quickly.
“But I know that I’m one of the fittest lads we’ve got in the squad and I’ve shown it again during pre-season.
“I take a lot of pride in my conditioning because, if you want to stay involved in the game, then you’ve got to be serious and look after yourself.”
Wilson, who paid tribute to his defence as well as the 3,597 strong travelling support, had described Oldham as “one of the toughest opening day fixtures you can get” before crossing the Pennines and, for 47 minutes, Paul Dickov’s charges did not disappoint.
United dominated both in terms of territory and possession before the interval but with Zander Diamond a steely presence at the heart of their opponents’ defence, United found themselves limited to a handful of chances before Maguire headed them in front.
Lecsinel Jean Francois, one of three debutants in Wilson’s starting eleven, shaved the bar with a rasping effort midway through the half while only a fine tackle from Kieran Lee prevented Ryan Flynn, another new signing, from caressing the ball home.
Maguire, though, made no mistake, when Cresswell, who minutes later bravely poked home Quinn’s cross from close range, forced Diamond to concede a corner which the Irishman looped into the box.
“It was quiet even to start with but when they scored three or four of my lads just gave up on what we’d planned,” said Dickov. “And I won’t have that.
“Their experienced players took control of things from that point on.
“But it was pretty even to start with, I didn’t think they troubled us and we actually created, from my perspective, the better chances.”
Dickov’s version of events might not have told the whole story but Diamond should have done better following Cresswell’s intervention before Matthew Lowton was forced to hack Dean Furman’s attempt off the line.
However, substitute Daniel Bogdanovic reaffirmed United’s superiority by forcing Alex Cisak to save following an earlier fumble.
“We went out there and did what we had to do,” said Cresswell.
“Credit to Oldham because they made it difficult for us and really dug-in.
“But I thought we were worth it in the end.”
I thought the support we had was brilliant. Absolutely magnificent in fact. We knew it was going to be good with the reception the lads got during the warm-up but it was even better when the match got underway. We want to thank the fans for that and hopefully we can continue to repay them.