Match verdict: Smells like team spirit for Blades' comeback kids - Gillingham 1 Sheffield United 2
So, after his side followed their well-worn script of dominating large parts of the game before falling behind to a combination of wonder-strike and player-error, the Blades boss could have been forgiven for wondering if it would be the same old story at Gillingham yesterday.
But in the end, United got exactly what they deserved in front of the Sky cameras in Kent. Three points, two goals and one very content manager.
“I said to the players that I was sick of going home and saying ‘we did alright, missed chances and were unlucky’,” Wilder said.
“It was about time we played well and converted that into a result, and I believe we did that. We make no excuses about our points total so far but we’ve been architects of our own downfall and not good enough in both boxes.
“So it was important at Gillingham to get something from the game, no matter how we played. But to play well, and get the result too, was extremely pleasing.”
Mightily relieving too, one imagines, for the Blades boss who has seen his boyhood club dominate arguably all but one of their games to date, yet flounder in the relegation places of the formative League One table.
Kieron Freeman’s equaliser here, before Billy Sharp’s late penalty, lifted them to 17th in the standings. It was a display of both industry and invention at the Priestfield, with Paul Coutts again impressing and Jake Wright marshalling a new-look back three with particular aplomb.
But it was United’s bottle which set them apart here. They went behind again, for the sixth time this campaign, but Freeman typified his side’s spirit with an energetic foray forward, before levelling with a committed sliding finish. United then weren’t content to then sit back and take a point and Sharp, who’d earlier missed two good chances by his standards, took responsibility and fired his side ahead from the spot after Gills substitute Josh Pask inexplicably handled Chris Basham’s looping cross.
Before last weekend’s win over Oxford, United had last come from behind to win against Doncaster Rovers on April 7, 2015. They’ve now done it twice in just over a week. Little wonder, then, that Wilder left the stadium with a smile on his face.
“To go in at half-time 1-0 down was another little test for us, and I’m delighted that we’ve come through it,” Wilder said.
“Billy missed a couple of chances but has the bottle to walk forward when it counts and stick the penalty away. He could have quite easily said ‘na, it’s not for me’ but he took responsibility as skipper and produced when it matters.
“That’s the type of character I want in that team and to be fair, I have it. We’ve gone behind again at a place that isn’t easy to come, and the game largely went our way.
“We had most of the play, played the better football with it and had the better chances. So, for me, it was a very just result.”
United, of course, experienced a very different result on their last visit to Gillingham on the opening day of last season, when they were stuffed 4-0. So their hardy 408 travelling supporters must have been fearing the worst when Bradley Dack - Gillingham’s star man who is, somehow, still plying his trade in League One - curled them ahead with a well-placed free-kick.
It was a blow for Wilder, who reckoned his wall could have done better, and for United, who had started brightly again. But they were indebted to Simon Moore early on, the goalkeeper racing out and spreading himself well to save from Cody McDonald as the striker raced clear.
United, who handed a debut to on-loan Burnley left-back Daniel Lafferty and named fellow new-boy Ethan Ebanks-Landell on the bench, lined up in a 3-5-2 formation but struggled to combat the threat of the effervescent Dack and the powerful Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
But they offered plenty of their own, too. Jonathan Bond, making his home debut for the Gills, had to be alert to deny Mark Duffy from long range and Sharp saw a shot blocked after a moment of hesitation.
“I walked in at half-time and wondered what we’d done, or what we have to do,” Wilder admitted.
“Again, we’d played reasonably well in the first half and were behind. It was like pressing play on the team-talk from three or four of the games we’ve had so far.”
United began the second period with purpose, and should have dragged themselves level ten minutes into it when Sharp headed Lafferty’s cross wide when well placed. Freeman eventually got them back on terms when he chased down Sharp’s cross and converted from close range, and United, who gave loanee Ethan Ebanks-Landell a Blades debut when he replaced James Wilson, went in search of a winner.
Duffy shot over before he was replaced by Scougall and skipper Sharp had the last word. Basham’s looping cross was falling right where the striker would have wanted it, before Pask intervened with a blatant handball. Pask was booked, Sharp made no mistake and United sealed a win which could prove a turning point in their season.