Retro: How Saunders stole the show on Wilder’s Sheffield United comeback

Second debut:  Chris Wilder gets the ball past  Vale's Dean Stokes
Second debut: Chris Wilder gets the ball past Vale's Dean Stokes
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Sheffield United’s new manager Chris Wilder had two spells as a player at Bramall Lane.

The lifelong Blade made 89 League appearances during his first spell between 1986-92 and a further 12 in 98-99.

Dean Saunders' magical goal won the game for United

Dean Saunders' magical goal won the game for United

And Wilder got off to a winning start to that second spell on October 28, 1998 - but received a booking for his troubles.

United beat Port Vale 2-1 at Bramall Lane with all the goals coming in the last eight minutes.

Manager Steve Thompson introduced Wilder and another new signing Ian Hamilton, from West Brom, to the line-up.

A third new boy Paul Devlin was out with a ricked back but the Blades’ gathering strength allowed them to protect Dean Saunders’ troubled hamstring as they faced two crucial matches in the following eight days, naming him as sub.

Back to the future: Chris Wilder, with co-owner  Kevin McCabe   and Alan Knill assistant manager. Photo: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Back to the future: Chris Wilder, with co-owner Kevin McCabe and Alan Knill assistant manager. Photo: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

In midweek the play-off chasing Blades were away to Division One leaders Nottingham Forest - managed by Dave Bassett.

And the following weekend they were to face Newcastle United in the FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford.

Wilder was quick to make an impression on his second debut for the club, as Tony Pritchett reported in the Green Un: “Wilder’s return was particularly spectacular - and painful for Vale’s Dean Stokes.

“In a reckless moment Wilder flattened him around the half-way line and could scarcely complain at a yellow card in the fourth minute.”

United had the best of a disappointing first half, Marcelo often proving a threat, while a Mills thunderbolt for Vale brought a great save from Alan Kelly, who was injured for his troubles but eventually able to carry on.

Wilder made an impression in an improved Blades showing after the interval, causing plenty of trouble in the visitors defence with a cunning cross, then making a surging run down the right but his cross was too high and strong.

But the highlight of the match was an incredible goal by sub Dean Saunders in the last minute.

United had gone ahead in the 83rd minute when Derry’s long throw was headed home by Marcelo.

When the goalkeeper followed him to the touchline Saunders cleverly took the throw-in against the keeper’s body and then curled a superb finishing shot into the empty net.

Vale pulled one back with an unjury-time rocket from Wayne Corden.

After the match manager Thompson paid tribute to Saunders, extraordinary goal: “There is only one Dean Saunders who could score a goal like that; a magician who pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the right time.

“Some referees might call it ungentlemanly conduct, but everyone knows Dean’s a gentleman so how could that be so? He is such a clever, bubbly character and at the end of it all I have to say is I am not surprised by anything he does.

“And it won us the game.”

* The teams -

United: Kelly, Wilder, Quinn, Hamilton, Sandford, Holdsworth, Ford (Dellas 69), Marker, Taylor (Saunders 56), Marcelo (Derry 7), Stewart.

Port Vale: Musdselwhite, Hill, Stokes (Corden 76), Bogie, Glover, Barnett, Ainsworth, Talbot (Porter 71), Mills, Foyle, Jansson.

Referee: S G Bennett (Redhill).

Attendance: 15,860.