Sheffield United: How a walk-of-shame helped turn players from zeros to heroes

The scenes at the end of Sunday's game were in stark contrast to those which followed their final match of 2015/16.
The scenes at the end of Sunday's game were in stark contrast to those which followed their final match of 2015/16.
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Those who took part had tried to erase it from their memories.

Even those who did not found watching the footage an excruciating experience.

Paul Coutts has seen good and bad times at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Paul Coutts has seen good and bad times at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But, 12 months after Sheffield United performed a walk-of-shame around Bramall Lane, Chris Wilder has revealed why he chose to relive the moment before Sunday’s official coronation as League One champions.

“The video analysis guys did a presentation to the players before the Chesterfield game,” he said. “I don’t think it did too much because they played the first-half bang average. It started with the walk of shame last season and then went on to some of the amazing moments we have had this year. If players leave everything out there, the supporters will get behind them.”

Wilder’s decision to revisit United’s failings during the 2015/16 season was, in one sense, surprising given the euphoria currently sweeping through the club. But the 49-year-old, who took charge less than a week after its dismal 11th placed finish, is a shrewd psychologist.

“Nobody wants to go back to that,” Wilder continued. “I honestly think this place was at a crossroads, a tipping point if you like.

Chris Basham celebrates promotion: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Chris Basham celebrates promotion: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“They’ve played with technical ability, skill and the supporters have jumped all over it. They, the fans, were ready for a season like this and they needed a season like this because of what’s happened in the past at times. We’re delighted we’ve given it to them because, to be fair, they don’t ask for much.”

Although it was tortuous at the time, the lap of dishonour which followed Nigel Adkins’ final match at the helm probably helped sow the seeds for United’s achievements last term. Not only did Paul Coutts, Chris Basham and other survivors of Wilder’s brutal close season cull use it as a motivational tool but, analysing their reaction to results under his predecessor, the former Northampton Town chief awarded the captaincy to Billy Sharp.

“You could see how gutted he was, how hurt he was,” Wilder explained. “You knew Billy just wanted to drive it on. He’s led from the front, on the pitch and in the dressing room. The leadership he’s provided has, really, been something else.”

A combination of calibre - Sharp, Kieron Freeman, John Fleck, Mark Duffy and Simon Moore were all named in the PFA’s divisional team of the year - and character has transformed United since Wilder’s appointment. They finished the season unbeaten in 17 outings having lost only once in 19 earlier that term. United’s longest unbeaten run during the previous campaign was five; a miserable return which culminated in the crowd’s angry reaction to their defeat by Scunthorpe on the final day.

“These lads have given everything they’ve got,” Wilder said. “The fans can see that and that’s why they’ve got right behind them, even through tough periods. I’m not saying that didn’t happen before, I can’t comment on that, but you can certainly see it right now.”