Sheffield United: 'My boys proved their psychological strength against AFC Bournemouth'
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, insisted his team had passed an important psychological test during the long-awaited return to the Premier League, acknowledging the sense of occasion weighed heavily upon their shoulders before the draw with AFC Bournemouth.
Twelve years since the club's last top-flight appearance, United started the new top-flight season by securing a deserved point at The Vitality Stadium when Billy Sharp cancelled-out Chris Mepham's opener for the hosts.
Although United had put on a relaxed front before the game, Wilder used his post-match interview to acknowledge there had been some nerves behind the scenes.
"Of course, the boys were a little bit apprehensive to begin with," he said. "It's a big deal, isn't it. But I thought we grew into the game as it went on. I'm not going to be greedy. I thought it was the right result and a fair result."
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Given that a vast swathe of Wilder's squad were making their first ever appearances at the highest level, it was inevitable some would require time to adjust to the demands of the competition. After nearly taking a first minute lead when David McGoldrick saw an effort saves by Aaron Ramsdale - the former Steelphalt Academy graduate being selected ahead of the more experienced Artur Boruc - United then struggled to retain possession for long periods of the first-half. However, as the interval approach, they established a foothold in the game with Callum Robinson and McGoldrick again going close before Mepham scrambled home. After preventing Bournemouth from gathering momentum, Wilder admitted he would have felt aggrieved had Sharp not pounced with only two minutes of normal time remaining.
"This is a big, big thing for these boys," Wilder said. "You can't forget that and I really thought we improved as a game wore on. I'd have been really disappointed for them - not for me, for them and the fans - if they hadn't got something out of it. I think that's a good point against a really good team. One that we've got a lot of respect for."
"We have to learn and grow," Wilder added. "I thought second-half, we came out and showed what we're really about."