Phil Brown studied Sam Allardyce, Jose Mourinho visited Largs.
But Chris Wilder believes 312 games in charge of Halifax taught him more about management than a 1000 coaching courses or personal master classes and, eight years after leaving The Shay, he returned on another fact finding mission last night.
This match, the third match of Sheffield United’s pre-season programme and first against a former professional club, represented a valuable opportunity for Wilder to assess the strengths and weaknesses of his revamped squad.
The result, which shattered its unbeaten record in pre-season competition, confirmed his suspicions there is still work to be done. But, as Wilder explained afterwards, so long as United are an cohesive unit by the time they visit Bolton Wanderers next month, then there will be no cause for alarm.
“I’m not happy because we’ve lost and that’s the top and bottom of it for me,” he admitted. “Our season has started but we didn’t start here. Maybe we thought this would be another game where we could put our foot on the ball and roll it around a little bit. It wasn’t. We got shocked and, to be honest, I’m glad that we did. This hasn’t been a good game for us but, in a different way, it might be a good game for me because it’s highlighted a few things for me going forward.”
Handpicked to pose the stiffest test yet of United’s progress under Wilder, Halifax did not disappoint.
Tenacious, tough and keen to impress following Billy Heath’s recent appointment, the National League North side created several promising opportunities during an awkward first-half before first Paul Coutts and then Matt Done wrestled back control.
Done has been in fine form since being restored to his preferred attacking role; scoring twice against both Stocksbridge Park Steels and a Murcia Representative XI. The centre-forward, paired with new captain Billy Sharp, nearly took his tally to five moments before the break but was denied by the woodwork after Jordan Sinnott had earlier struck a post for Halifax.
“The game was exactly what I wanted,” Wilder said. It was physical and it was tough. We didn’t start well and perhaps it’s been a bit of a wake-up call.”
Wilder has overhauled United’s rearguard since arriving at Bramall Lane. New signings Jack O’Connell and James Wilson both caught the eye with the latter showing a good turn of pace when required. Both had departed by the time Connor Hughes broke the deadlock with less than a quarter-of-an-hour remaining. Fellow substitute Richard Peniket doubled Halifax’s advantage soon after meeting a set-piece. United’s marking, perhaps unsurprisingly given the flurry of substitutions Wilder had made minutes earlier, left plenty to be desired.
It emerged Che Adams had been the subject of an undisclosed offer from a Championship club hours just hours before yesterday’s game. Although that bid was turned down, the England youth international was ommitted from the squad which faced Heath’s team. Wilder has overcome more serious problems than approaches for a player he already knew boasted admirers elsewhere. But, with the visit to the Macron Stadium now less than three weeks away, he will hope the issue is resolved soon.
Aaron Ramsdale, again deputising for George Long, smothered Tom Denton’s header as the hosts impressed.
Matt Done turned the tables with an excellent run and cross which ended with Paul Coutts drawing a fine save from Steven Drench. Moments later, Done was thwarted by the woodwork after unleashing a vicious low drive from inside the box.
United started the second-half in much more positive fashion than the first. Sharp was inches way from connecting with a low centre after lunging towards Drench while Done’s influence continued to grow.
But, in the 77th minute, Hughes swept a smart finish past Ramsdale’s outstretched palm and inside United’s far post. Peniket made sure when he powered home soon after.
FC Halifax Town: Drench (Nicholson 70), Moyo (Harrison 88), Wilde (Baldwin 74), King (Roberts 68), Hone (Garrner 64), Garner (Hughes 46), MacDonald (Kosylo 58), Hibbs (Khan 78), Denton (Burrow 65), Burrow (Peniket 46), Sinnott (Hotte 46). Not used: Kosylo, Jackson.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Brayford (Wright 70), Hussey (K Wallace 70), Fleck (Reed 58), O’Connell (Whiteman 70), Basham (Freeman 70), Sharp (McNulty 58), Done (Brooks 70), Coutts (Scougall 58), Wilson, Duffy (Calvert-Lewin 58). Not used: Long, Walters.
Referee: Jane Simms