Alan Biggs: Wilder picked the right time to take a period of reflection for Sheffield United's achievements
Chris Wilder picked his moment well. If you're going to pause to take well-earned pride in your team it might as well be after a defeat that ends in a standing ovation. A defeat that said so much about what has carried Sheffield United so far.
Taking your foot off the accelerator, even for a second, is not part of the full-on mentality of a team and management still competing for the top two places in the Championship. It’s not Wilder’s way. But Bramall Lane at full-time on Tuesday demanded some reflection and a reality check.
It was great that the Blades boss took time for it, rather than highlighting the errors always bound to be present in an incredible nine goal thriller. Yes, nine.
Sheffield United 4 Fulham 5, for those still with spinning heads. Almost but not quite a late three-goal recovery from a 5-2 deficit, but the game was remarkable enough.
Even more resounding than the applause at the end was that United’s ultra-positive mindset was the important thing to emerge – and it came through not only unscathed but embellished.
That’s why a manager who can forgive a mistake if it is made in that spirit felt able – not entirely typically but certainly refreshingly – to draw breath to heap praise on his side.
“The attitude of the players to keep driving forward epitomised what we’re all about,” he said.
“It’s important they could keep their heads up and stick their chest out. There’s not too many things wrong at this club.
“We’ve had a setback. But a setback in terms of trying to go top from the position we were in 17 months ago! It’s all relative.”
Let’s add that Fulham – with a brilliant hat-trick from 17-year-old prodigy Ryan Sessegnon to finally eclipse the hat-trick of a phenomenally in-form 32-year-old Leon Clarke – are packed with quality and should be performing like this more regularly.
But, for United, the deserved self-congratulation will be fleeting. While the remorselessly attacking psyche is a given, Wilder will examine the finer detail. . . “look at the goals we conceded. . . we weren’t at our flowing best. . . we gave the ball away too cheaply. . . one or two are a bit tired, our game is based on energy and we have to look at that with Birmingham here on Saturday.”
There’s also the costly and harrowing loss of broken leg victim Paul Coutts, not only a string-puller but the sort of stabilising influence who’d be missed in any game, not least in one like Tuesday’s for all that John Lundstram made a good fist of a hugely challenging task.
But these are negative thoughts. A refusal to dwell on them is, to quote Wilder, what this team is all about. Write them off at your peril.