The Star’s James Shield highlights the key themes to emerge from today’s victory over Bolton Wanderers, as Chris Wilder’s team climbs to second in the Championship
Game of Two Halves
United, as manager Chris Wilder accepted afterwards, were a shade slower and less intense than usual throughout the first-half. Although they could have moved the ball quicker, much of the credit for that must go to Wanderers who massed players behind the ball whenever the hosts looked to get forward. But United showed good patience and got their reward after the interval as first David McGoldrick and then Billy Sharp secured the victory their persistence warranted.
Leading by Example
Sharp, the United captain, was making the 500th league appearance of his career and he celebrated reaching that landmark by claiming a goal and an assist. His contribution, against a gutsy Wanderers side, demonstrated why Wilder hopes talks about a new contract for the centre-forward are reach a positive conclusion as quickly as possible, potentially before Friday's trip to Aston Villa,
Setting the Tone
Although they were noticeably more ambitious after the interval, Wanderers had clearly arrived with a plan to frustrate United and packed 10 men behind the ball whenever they pressed forward. One suspects, barring games against others also fighting for promotion, this fixture will set a pattern for the remainder of the season. In order to maintain their challenge, United must adhere to their own strategy and trust their methods.
Squad depth, or the depth of quality within a squad to be exact, will be crucial during the closing stages of the campaign. And not just to guard against injuries or suspensions. With new signings Kieran Dowell, Scott Hogan and Gary Madine all among their substitutes, United now have the ability to make tactical changes too. Even Paul Coutts being taken ill before kick-off did not reduce the quality of options at their disposal.