AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Sheffield United: Power of the People makes all the difference for The Blades

It was around five hours before kick-off, as Sheffield United's players enjoyed a morning stroll around Bournemouth, when Chris Wilder remembered he was not about to lead 11 footballers into battle but also thousands of other men, women and children too.

Sunday, 11th August 2019, 3:19 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th August 2019, 8:14 pm
Sheffield United's Billy Sharp (left) celebrates with supporters: Mark Kerton/PA Wire.

Within moments of emerging from their town centre bolthole, where they had spent the night plotting and preparing for the club's Premier League return, the manager and his squad found themselves surrounded by supporters who, after catching a glimpse of their heroes, came streaming out of a nearby hostelry. Some top-flight clubs, despite insisting otherwise in public, would recoil at the idea of actually mixing with their excitable followers. But United do things differently. Rather than searching for an escape route and keeping their distance, Wilder encouraged his team to embrace the experience; channel it into another wholehearted performance.

"This place is at it's best when that relationship is there," he said, when the dust had finally settled on Saturday's draw with Eddie Howe's side. "It's been like that in the past, it's like that now and the same will go for the future, when everyone is together.

"All the way through our time here, I think it's been like this. I remembering going to Marbella a while back, being on a coach and then suddenly seeing 500 or so fans appear out of nowhere. So I knew what was coming but some of the lads, the new ones, probably didn't."

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It was three years ago, at that training camp in Andalusia, where United began their journey back to the big time following more than a decade in the wilderness. So it was fitting that Billy Sharp, one of the driving forces behind their climb from the third tier to the top-flight, scored the goal which ensured the visitors claimed the point their efforts deserved.

The centre-forward's effort, with only two minutes of normal time remaining, sparked exuberant celebrations in the away end and the technical area too. Having fallen behind midway through the second-half, when Chris Mepham prodded Bournemouth in front, Wilder made no apology for United's reaction.

"That at the end, people can think is is an over celebration? No. It's just the enjoyment of a good job," he said. "They've got a great connection. These boys are really down to earth and honest, and they've earned the right to play in the Premier League."

Strangely, given the tactical nature of the contest, both finishes were pretty scrambled affairs. After David McGoldrick had twice gone close for United following John Lundstram assists and Callum Robinson also forcing a save from Aaron Ramsdale, Mepham hooked the ball home after a skirmish in front of Dean Henderson. But United, who improved as the afternoon wore on, were rewarded for their persistence when Sharp, the most prolific marksman in the English game this century, converted for the first time at the highest level. Fellow substitute Oli McBurnie, one of three United debutants, had seen a shot blocked in the earlier melee.

"We had to do amazing things to get here," Wilder said. "We don't want it to just pass us by."

AFC Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Cook, Ake, King, Lerma, Rico, Mepham, Billing, Smith, Wilson (Solanke 89), Fraser. Not used: Boruc, Surman, Ibe, Daniels, Wilson, Simpson.

Sheffield United: Henderson, Stevens, Baldock, Basham (Sharp 81), Egan, O'Connell, Norwood, Fleck, Lundstram (L Freeman 78), McGoldrick (McBurnie 63), Robinson. Not used: Moore, Jagielka, Osborn, Besic.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).