Sheffield United 2 Ipswich Town 0: George Baldock reveals the inspiration behind Premier League bound Blades

The cover of the programme sought to evoke the spirit of another set of legends responsible for delivering top-flight football to Bramall Lane.

Friday, 26th April 2019, 18:21 pm
Updated Sunday, 28th April 2019, 20:12 pm
Sheffield United's Billy Sharp has captained his club back to the top-flight: Nick Potts/PA Wire

There really was no need. This Sheffield United team is in the business of creating its own history. And, as one of its members later explained, the inspiration behind their climb into the Premier League was an impromptu speech during a warm weather training camp. Not a desire, despite the well-documented links, to emulate the achievements of the Class of 1990.

"I remember my first pre-season here," George Baldock, the United wing-back said, casting his mind back two summers ago. "We'd gone out to Spain and were sharing the same place as AFC Bournemouth. The manager sat us down and talked to us about how a lot of their boys had come up through the divisions and were now doing what they're doing at the highest level. He told us we could do the same and if not, why not? We always had belief but that made it feel possible."

United were still waiting for their promotion to be confirmed when, around an hour after the final whistle, Baldock arrived to discuss Saturday's victory over Ipswich Town and its probable implications. But less than 24 hours later, when Leeds' draw with Aston Villa guaranteed they could finish no lower than second, his words still remained relevant.

Chris Wilder, like Sharp, is a lifelong Sheffield United fan: James Wilson/Sportimage

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Supposedly too raw and inexperienced to survive in the Championship, let alone potentially win it, Chris Wilder's team have defied both financial logic and conventional tactical wisdom thanks to a combination of character, camaraderie and hitherto under-appreciated talent. At least beyond the confines of their dressing room.

"Hard work and togetherness, those have been key," Baldock continued. "But downstairs we've got some bloody good players as well. Everybody talks about the ability Leeds have got and Norwich City have got. They have. But we've also got a damn good amount of it as well.

"On top of that, even though everyone sees how hard the boys and the gaffer work, behind the scenes we work ten times harder. That's why, if you ask me, the lads out there alongside me deserve everything they get."

The performance which brushed aside already relegated opponents was a fitting tribute to the qualities which have made United, particularly in the face of sometimes suffocating pressure, such an irresistible proposition under Wilder's stewardship.

Sheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: James Wilson/Sportimage

Playing with panache and purpose, Baldock and his fellow defenders spent as much time trying to score a goal as they did trying to prevent one. John Fleck's industry was the perfect foil for Oliver Norwood's invention in midfield while centre-forward Billy Sharp, United's captain and a lifelong follower of the club, was passion personified during his second-half cameo.

Earlier David McGoldrick, signed on a free transfer at the beginning of the seaosn after being released from Portman Road, had produced a simply breathtaking piece of skill to create one of countless opportunities sandwiched in between strikes from Scott Hogan and Jack O'Connell. If there is such a thing as a pass from the gods, then that was it. Unfortunately Baldock, losing his footing at the vital moment, could not apply the finishing touch as the crowd belted-out its raucous soundtrack.

"Since my time here, the gaffer has always had the mindset of starting like we are a goal behind," he continued, providing a revealing insight into United's psychology. "It's something he's always drilled into us and something we've been happy to take on board. We attack and, if that attack breaks down, then we make sure someone else is there to pick it up all over again."

Wilder, another boyhood United fan, was a member of the squad his friend and mentor Dave Bassett guided into the old Division One nearly three decades ago. The parallels between the two groups, and the one Neil Warnock took up 16 years later, are clear for all to see. Indeed, as his charges prepared for their meeting with Ipswich, Wilder was instrumental in ensuring those stirring images of their predecessors were splashed across the front of United's matchday publication.

A Sheffield United fan celebrates in the stands: Nick Potts/PA Wire

"It's brilliant, to have two people at the top of their game, who know what it means to the city," Baldock, referring to Sharp and the manager, said. "It's invaluable. They know the pressure and understand the crowd.

"They (the supporters) have had play-off heartache and been let down at times. So to give them something to smile and shout about, it feels unbelievable."

Wilder inherited a side languishing mid-table in League One when he was appointed. Two promotions and three seasons later, United have now regained their seat at one of the most distinguished tables in sport. Hogan set them on their way with a deft shot towards the far post after Mark Duffy, previously of Vauxhall Motors and Prescot Cables, had released O'Connell before the latter headed home a Fleck corner after Norwood had struck the post with a set-piece. It sealed United's third straight win and, when Leeds were held by Villa, left them five points clear in second with only one fixture remaining.

"You saw the celebrations," Baldock said. "That showed what it means. We've come through tests of our nerve and the lads have stood up. That tells you what they're about."

Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O'Connell, Baldock, Stevens, Norwood, Fleck, Duffy (Lundstram 85), Hogan (Sharp 63), McGoldrick (Madine 77). Not used: Moore, Dowell, Stearman, Cranie.

Ipswich Town: Gerken, Chambers, Skuse, Jackson (Dozzell 69), Keane (Chalobah 8), Bishop, Downes, Nsiala, Kenlock, Judge, Bree. Not used: Bialkowski, Elder, Emmanuel, El Mizouni, Ndaba.

Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).

Attendance: 30,140.