Sheffield United: When Chris Wilder felt like throttling an Arsenal great
Chris Wilder was p****d. Not in the alcoholic sense, although he had enjoyed a few drinks. Rather, after watching his beloved Sheffield United threaten a major FA Cup upset, it was the moment he and thousands of others knew their semi-final with Arsenal had decisively swung the Londoners' way.
"I had a ticket behind the goal," Wilder said, remembering David Seaman's acrobatics to deny Paul Peschisolido. "There's till a picture at Bramall Lane, in the corridor, of that one handed save. Everybody behind the goal, myself included, thought that was the opportunity."
Wilder was still in charge of Halifax Town when, together with friends and family, he made his way to Old Trafford. Twenty-four hours earlier, the now United manager had watched them beat Hereford at The Shay. One day later, his already hoarse voice became even croakier as, after barking orders to his players during an important Conference fixture, he roared on Neil Warnock's charges during their titanic battle with Arsenal. Then, after Freddie Ljungberg's contentious opener, falling silent when Seaman's brilliance denied them an equaliser.
Although the occasion ultimately proved to be a heartbreaking experience, especially given the circumstances surrounding the Swede's goal, Wilder believes there were also positives to take as he remembers the fixture 16 years on.
"I thought Jags' performance against Thierry Henry that day was magnificent," he said, recalling Phil Jagielka's breakout display against one of the most feared strikers in the game. "I thought that was the day, really, when he announced himself as a Premier League quality player."
Tomorrow, when United renew their rivalry with Arsenal, many are predicting a slug-fest between two attack-minded teams. Jagielka is back in South Yorkshire, having rejoined from Everton, and Wilder, who took charge of United in 2016, suspects his side can succeed where their predecessors failed.
Ljungberg's finish, which came following Graham Poll's failure to spot a foul on Wayne Allison before impeding Michael Tonge as he raced back to cover, was the latest in a series of controversial episodes between his employers and their rivals from the capital. Four years earlier, Arsene Wenger felt compelled to offer United a replay when Nwankwo Kanu intercepted Ray Parlour's throw-in and set-up Marc Overmars' decisive goal. The ball had earlier been kicked-out to enable Lee Morris to receive treatment. Twenty-two months after Seaman's reactions denied them another day out at the Millennium Stadium, the late Jose Antonio Reyes was found guilty of violent conduct for slapping United's Andy Liddell during a stormy fifth round tie. Although he escaped censure at the time, Arsenal's Dennis Berkamp was dismissed for pushing Danny Cullip during the melee which followed.
"I always seems to happen when it's Sheffield United versus somebody else doesn't it," Wilder said. "There's quiet games, obviously, but things happen and occur that people talk about."