James Shield’s Big Match Breakdown: How Sheffield United fared against Wigan Athletic

Sheffield United played host to Wigan Athletic today
Sheffield United played host to Wigan Athletic today

Sheffield Unired regained top spot in the Championship table as Billy Sharp's hat-trick saw them beat Wigan Athletic 4-2 at Bramall Lane. The Star's Bramall Lane correspondent James Shield identifies the key moments and periods of the game.

Key Moment: More than Chey Dunkley's own goal, more than Billy Sharp's first of the afternoon, the United captain's second goal was the pivotal moment of this game. The hosts have been criticised for failing to take full advantage of the chances they create in recent weeks. They did not prove so generous here, putting daylight between themselves and Wigan early in the second period when Leon Clarke found his fellow centre-forward at the far post. That, combined with the fact they were able to keep Paul Cook's men at arms length when his team started the contest in positive fashion, suggested United are learning from past mistakes and benefiting from their hard work both on the training pitch and in the video analysis room at the Steelphalt Academy. 

Key Man: Who else but Sharp, whose goals propelled United back to the top of the table? Wilder's decision to leave the centre-forward out of their starting eleven against Stoke City earlier in the week was criticised by some. But, remembering how the captain benefited from a rest or two last season, they felt another break might have the same effect. The hunch proved correct as Sharp, full of running, proved too hot for Wigan's defence to handle as he took his tally for the season to 11. At the other end of the pitch, Dean Henderson also produced two big saves at two crucial moments of the game.

How the Game was Won: Despite their miserable away record, Wigan, who have now lost six in a row on the road, were the better team at the beginning of this game. Indeed, their manager Paul Cook will have been distraught to fall behind when Chey Dunkley turned the ball into his own net and, following Kai Naismith's equaliser, Sharp restored United's lead. But, while Wilder will have concerns about the manner in which the visitors scored, he must have been delighted to see his players ride out that difficult period. Crucially, when a chance arose, United took it. After being accused of being too profligate in recent weeks, the sight of them scoring so freely represents a significant step forward in the battle for promotion.

Referee Watch: If David McGoldrick collects a fourth yellow card of the season at Nottingham Forest next weekend, and misses the derby against Sheffield Wednesday as a result, United will be cursing Tony Harrington whose decision to caution the forward for preventing a free-kick being taken quickly appeared a shade harsh. Other than that, the referee and his assistants acquitted themselves well at Bramall Lane. They got the vast majority of the key decisions right and, despite fears the game is in danger of becoming a non-contact sport, were happy for both sets of players to engage in a physical battle as well as one of skill.

Summary: On top of the table after scoring four goals for the second time this season, on the face of it United have few causes for complaint. Yet, and this is encouraging for the rest of the season, Wilder will acknowledge their victory could have been even more comfortable. Both of Wigan's goals were preventable, with the hosts' defence going to sleep for the second. It was a lapse rather than a systemic failing, which should be easily corrected before next weekend's visit to Nottingham Forest. Chris Basham will miss that match, before presumably returning for the derby against Sheffield Wednesday, after collecting his fifth booking of the season during the closing stages. One of many plus points was the fact that United made the most of the chances they created, with the first two of Sharp's strike coming at important stages of the game.