Three new players, five well-taken goals and a performance that revealed plenty about the way his team plans to go about its business next season.
All in all, this has been a pretty good weekend for Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.
With latest signings Jack O’Connell and John Fleck both travelling to Stocksbridge Park Steels on Saturday afternoon, Wilder confirmed Jake Wright had also come on board moments after watching the visitors complete an emphatic victory over their non-league neighbours.
“I’ve stuck Jake in my suitcase pretty much everywhere that I’ve been,” Wilder, who has worked with Wright at Halifax Town and Oxford United, said. “Managers always have players like that and I think it says a lot about the guy that I wanted to do it again.
“He was made available, for whatever reason, and as I’ve explained before, it’s not always about paying a fee. You can get players from different pots and, if you want my opinion, I think this is a really smart piece of business.”
Wright, aged 30, captained Oxford to promotion from League Two last term before leaving The Kassam Stadium by mutual consent. He has agreed a two-year contract with United and, as Wilder explained, will compete with O’Connell and James Wilson for a place at the heart of his new-look rearguard.
“Jake won’t want to come here and sit on the bench,” Wilder acknowledged. “He won’t want to be in the stands. “But, no matter what he’s doing, Jake will be getting lads fired up. Like Willo, Jake really wants to grab this opportunity.
“They aren’t players who think they are at the stage of their career when they can come here for a big pay day before they get the golf clubs out.”
O’Connell, previously of Brentford, started the 5-0 victory over Steels before making way for Wilson, whose transfer to Bramall Lane was completed seven days ago, at half-time.
Wilder, whose squad arrived in La Manga for a warm-weather training camp last night, said: “We’ve brought in players that have had success and players that want to lead from the front, players that have come to this club for the right reasons. I think it’s a smart piece of business.
“I know a lot about Jake, I know a lot about his character and he will suit the way we want to play. We want proper players who can handle the expectation of being at this football club.”
Fleck, who joins United following a successful spell with Coventry City, certainly ticks that particular box after progressing through the ranks at Glasgow giants Rangers.
The midfielder was excused from duty at Bracken Moor after joining United as a free agent. But, like Wright, he is expected to feature when they face a Murcia Representative XI on Thursday evening.
“Blimey, it you can play for that club and play in that environment, where you have to win no matter what, then you can handle anything,” Wilder, reflecting on Fleck’s time at Ibrox, said.
“Alan (Knill), myself and the rest of the coaching staff are really looking forward to working with him. He’s a good kid too. He could have been down the road getting his stuff together but he wanted to be here with the lads. And that speaks volumes.”
“John was outstanding for Coventry and was their Player of the Year last season,” Wilder added. “They’ll be disappointed to see him leave. Our supporters know what a footballer is all about and I think the reaction of him coming in tells you that. John is aggressive, he’s combative and he likes to get on the ball. Basically, he’s a proper player.”
Although it must be measured against the level of opposition, United’s display at Steels was illuminating. Not least because it differed so sharply from the ones they produced during the closing stages of Nigel Adkins’ regime last term.
With Marc McNulty and Matt Done both scoring twice before the break, United played brutally effective football. There was an intelligence about their work. But also a simplicity too, with defenders and midfielders encouraged, Wilder later explained, to “pass forward” whenever the opportunity arose. Possession was used rather than just maintained. Che Adams was on target after the interval while Steelphalt Academy graduate David Brooks caught the eye.
Likewise O’Connell who, on this evidence, appears another astute investment.
“I think you’ve just seen what Jack is all about,” Wilder said. “He comes for the ball, he recovers well, he organises and he’s got a sweet left foot. I’ve got a lot of respect for Mark Warburton who took him down to Brentford. He knows what a player is all about. Jack captained Rochdale when he was on loan there earlier in his career and that speaks volumes about him as well. He’s the type of lad that we want.”
Stocksbridge PS: D Reay, Paling, Tootle, Gregory, McFayden, M Reay, Hinchliffe, Biggins, Lumsden, Ruthven, Poulton. Substitutes: Fewkes, Litchfield, Thompson, Griffin, Singleton, Salmons.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale (Eastwood 46), Brayford (Freeman 46), Hussey (K Wallace 46), O’Connell (Wilson 46), Shaughnessy (Semple 46), Reed (Brooks 46), Whiteman (Scougall 46), J Wallace (Basham 46), Calvert-Lewin (Sharp 46), Done (Duffy 46), McNulty (Adams 46).