Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Chris Wilder and his Blades A-Team showed they're not in the Premier League to make the numbers up
If you’re as old as me, you’ll no doubt remember that TV show called ‘The A-Team’.
A group of motley characters were taken on unlikely missions around various different parts of their country and always triumphed, usually against all the odds and sometimes when they seemed destined to fail.
The men were led by a character named ‘Hannibal’ and at the end of every episode, when the mission was accomplished, he would light a big cigar, smile and say ”I love it when a plan comes together”. It became an 1980’s catchphrase and it’s still around today in certain circles. Well, mine anyway!
Now I doubt that Chris Wilder lit up a huge Hamlet after the game in the dressing room, but I’d like to think that on the journey back – or perhaps in a period of quiet contemplation at home - he sat down, swapped the cigar for a Peroni, maybe, and reflected on a ‘Bournemouth mission accomplished’.
Because Chris and his staff certainly had a plan, and it came together quite brilliantly.
As opening games go, Bournemouth away doesn’t appear to be the severest of tests when you look at the bigger clubs we could have faced. But Bournemouth have been a Premiership club for FIVE years now, and are acknowledged as being one of the best footballing sides of the division.
Not only have they survived for four seasons, they’ve finished comfortable in mid-table, so our first fixture as a new Premier League team was never going to be an easy ride. So we needed a plan. A good one.
Not anything too cunning or complex but just something achievable and making use of all the players at our disposal, whether they’d been here for a few seasons or a few days. So step forward John Lundstram, and take a bow. You did your job my friend, and did it very well indeed.
A surprise selection for many fans, but as another saying goes – sometimes its “horses for courses” and Lundstram proved to be the correct one for this track.
The players would have known of the game-plan and the shape of the team during the week, and would have totally understood what was required. It was (very) basically, a formation to give us more solidity in midfield and to contain the opposition in their opening home game of a new season, especially in the first half where the onus would be on them to come at us.
After all, we’re newcomers aren’t we? And every knowledgeable ‘pundit’ in the country is tipping us to be relegated! So Bournemouth we’re expected to win… and win comfortably, I’d suggest.
But our plan was near-on perfect. Not just Lundstram, but everyone around him did their jobs. We kept our shape and didn’t leave ourselves wide open to attack. And after watching Norwich at Anfield on Friday night, the plan was looked the correct one for me from the moment the team was announced.
Granted, Bournemouth are not Liverpool, but the theory was the same. So a largely uneventful first-half passed by, and we actually had the better chances and were actually quite comfortable, as Bournemouth slowly passed the ball from side to side trying to break us down.
Now we’ll never know what the second half plan actually was, but if it was much of the same in order to hopefully secure an excellent point, then it had to change after they scored their goal. They didn’t really deserve it to be honest although they were coming into the game slightly more.
However, from that moment on, the Sheffield United team that we all know and love kicked fully into gear and if there was to be another goal in the game, it was us who were going to score it. Quite simply Bournemouth could have been Barnsley, Brentford or Bradford as we completely dominated the last 30 minutes, playing they type of football that has become our unique trademark.
Our wing-backs became wingers, and even centre-forwards at times! Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell threw off their defensive shackles and starting joining in the attacks out wide, showing the watching football world the over-lapping centre-backs that they’d heard so much about.
On Match of the Day they showed a graphic of the touches Bash and Jack had in the form of a pitch map. Their touches were mainly high up in the opposition's half! Pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright were quite amazed - though I’m not sure Gary Lineker understood it, to be honest, as he’s getting a bit confused it seems in his old age!
Ollie Norwood started getting on the ball, dictating play and looking like he’d was playing his 100th Premier League game rather than his first. John Fleck started driving forward with ball, as he does so well. All round the team the confidence grew as we took to this new division like duck to water.
The other Oli, the scruffy one(!), made his debut and made a HUGE difference in my opinion. We had a proper outlet and a focal point to our play. He’s going to be a brilliant singing for us. Ditto Calum Robinson, who glided about the pitch showing his class and composure, and Luke Freeman darted around, finding spaces and filling that vital No.10 linking role.
The last 30 minutes was a joy to watch and even if we’d lost, it would have showed the players that there is little to fear about this division and we are fully equipped and deserving to be there.
But we didn’t lose, did we! When you need a goal from somewhere, in ANY division, then there’s always one man in a Blades shirt who more often than not will find a way to get one. It had to be him didn’t it? The script was written and this striker didn’t fluff his lines.
Our brilliant, bustling, battling Billy came up trumps again and cemented himself further as Blades legend for all time. It was actually quite fitting that three of English football’s best and most high-profile goal scorers were on the MOTD sofas to pay tribute to him.
So we’re off the mark with a point after our great plan paved the way for a professional performance and one which also showed the whole nation our potential. We will get better as well.
We will grow in confidence and play with our usual style and swagger more often and for longer periods of matches. We’ve waited a long time to get back into the top division and we plan to be around for a few more seasons yet.
I think it’s a plan that will ‘come together’ very nicely indeed. After all, Hannibal Wilder is in charge and we certainly have an A-Team!