Andrea Pirlo once said the most dangerous place in football is the seat next to the dressing room door when Antonio Conte’s patience has been tested.
Chris Basham might beg to differ after witnessing Chris Wilder’s furious reaction to this disappointing and, unless the manager’s temper subsides, potentially career-defining draw for some of his Sheffield United teammates.
Wilder was positively seething after watching Gillingham, despite spending long periods of the game on the back foot, prevent the League One leaders establishing a decisive gap between themselves and third-placed Bolton Wanderers.
Whether this missed opportunity could be attributed entirely to profligate finishing remains open to debate. Stuart Nelson, the visitors’ goalkeeper, proved as adept at making saves as he did time-wasting during an irritatingly impressive shift between the posts.
Either way, Basham admitted afterwards, Wilder was in no mood for sober discussion.
“The gaffer wasn’t happy and he was right,” he said. “He’s told us a few home truths and we were all arguing in there as well. We are top but everyone is disappointed like we are bottom. That’s the good thing about this club, we are in it together, we all hurt together and we don’t want to let the manager and the staff down.”
Wilder accused United of being “big time” during a sloppy second-half performance. And not in a good way.
With the Blades taking the lead when Billy Sharp claimed his 18th of the season, the stage should have been set for them to record an 18th victory in 24 league outings. Instead, as Josh Wright scored twice in quick succession, they ended up chasing a game which should already have been settled and relying on Kieron Freeman to spare them from an even harsher post-match blast.
“The gaffer was on our backs saying it’s a game of two halves, don’t be a mug team,” Basham said. “It’s the right thing to do, we need a kick up the backside sometimes.”
Wilder apportioned most of the blame for United’s inability to translate possession and chances into maximum points on his centre-forwards. Given the defensive lapses which gift-wrapped both of Wright’s goals, that did not tell the entire story.
However, considering the sheer volume of openings United create, Wilder’s claim that Sharp should not be the only member of their squad in double figures is not without merit.
Caolan Lavery and Leon Clarke, who missed this game through injury, have both seen their seasons interrupted by fitness issues. Marc McNulty has spent the majority of it away from Bramall Lane.
With Matt Done now deputising at wing-back, it is easy to see why United want to sign James Hanson from Bradford City.
“The captain has scored 17 or 18,” Wilder said. “How we don’t have anybody else alongside him on 14 or 15 is a mystery to me.
“None of them have grabbed the opportunity. These boys get paid to score goals.”
Born in Ipswich but having turned professional with Norwich City, Adrian Pennock is not afraid of a challenge.
But, such was United’s overwhelming superiority before the interval, even Gillingham’s new head coach must have feared he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Wilder claimed some of Pennock’s players looked “shell-shocked” as they retreated to the dressing room.
But, with Nelson frustrating Sharp and Caolan Lavery hitting the side-netting following a John Fleck assist, the visitors punished United’s generosity after returning to the pitch.
Wright, dancing through at least four tackles, restored parity before pouncing again from Ryan Jackson’s long throw.
Freeman, now second leading goalscorer, spared United’s blushes from close-range before McNulty saw an attempt scrambled clear.
With Jack O’Connell glancing wide in between Wright’s efforts and, like Sharp, seeing an effort disallowed for offside, United were left wondering how a match which should already have been settled had turned into a dog-fight.
“We were so dominant and comfortable, but football is two teams, two halves, and they were always going to have a sniff,” Basham said.
“We let a lot of people down.”