A post-match touchline at Bramall Lane last Saturday and an insight into the psyche that is driving Sheffield United’s season.
Chris Wilder is savouring a late winner against Northampton when I tell him that a Scunthorpe side looking to reclaim top spot from the Blades have gone behind at Bolton. He’s delighted, albeit respectfully.
Then I get to thinking, in conversation with legendary former colleague Les Payne, that perhaps Wilder should really have been hoping for a Scunthorpe win given that it would actually have strengthened United’s hold on a top two spot. The margin would have been three points over a third-placed Bolton had Wanderers lost. Instead, it was just two points separating those three sides.
Small potatoes, maybe, but the clear message for me was that Wilder was shooting for just one place in that League One table and it wasn’t second. Of course, anyone around the Lane would take it for automatic promotion but it’s an illustration of how the manager has changed the mind-set of the place.
In the 40 minutes or so before that touchline aside he’d made attacking substitutions that threw caution to the wind in a gamble that paid off. We’ve seen the same in many other matches; a refusal to compromise and take just a point.
Roll on another couple of days and, with Northampton hero Kieron Freeman scoring again, it’s a 3-1 comeback from behind to win at Bury and keep United top of the pile – and this time the margin on third place is four points.
Yet again, too, Billy Sharp is on target, his 17th of the season – remarkable, even by his prolific standards, for just over half a season’s work. Sharp is the skipper who, amid formidable competition, just refuses to be dropped.
Yes, there are times when his general play is not as impressive in hold-up and linking terms as the man alongside him. I feel a little sorry for that partner, whoever he happens to be, as he’s the guy always vulnerable to being taken off because Sharp’s sheer weight of goals keeps him on the field, and rightly so.
The challenge for Leon Clarke, Caolan Lavery, Matt Done and now Marc McNulty, on his return to the club, is to somehow eclipse the main man, knowing that working hard without scoring is not enough. But fellow strikers are contributing in their own ways and hunger is the mentality running throughout the club.
Take second place? Not under this manager. And while we’re at it, having won the League Two title at Northampton last season, let’s check his record for the calendar year of 2016.
Played 47 Won 30 Drawn 13 Lost 4. Points 103.
In other words, second to nobody!