Sheffield United: Chris Wilder’s not-so-fond memories of first game in charge of Blades ahead of Bolton return

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It is the ground where he first took charge of his beloved Blades so, despite an unjust defeat that day over two years ago, does Chris Wilder have fond recollections of Bolton’s Macron Stadium?

No, it turns out. Not one bit.

“It wasn’t a good memory at all. Why would it be when you get beat?” the Sheffield United manager hit back to a question at his pre-match media conference yesterday.

“I don’t like getting beat, 100 per cent. I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

“We’re always evolving with every experience, from when I started to now.

“I’m a miles better manager now than when I started, by the way.

A suited Wilder on the touchline in his first game in charge of United. The losing run didn't last... and neither did the suit

A suited Wilder on the touchline in his first game in charge of United. The losing run didn't last... and neither did the suit

“We have to try not to make mistakes and try to improve.”

Exactly 750 days from his first outing as United manager, Wilder’s men return to the Macron on Saturday as an established Championship club, far more advanced than the side in transition which lost 1-0 to a Jay Spearing screamer on August 6, 2016.

Such has been the turnaround from that day onwards that only six of the 18 from 2016 are in with a chance of playing on Saturday - Jake Wright and Paul Coutts are injured.

And Wilder’s matchday attire has also changed, too; the Blades boss joking that he left his suit behind in a Bermondsey off-licence after buying the beers for the coach home, following August’s defeat at Millwall that left his side bottom of League One.

Chris Wilder celebrates a victory at Bolton. Pic: Sportimage

Chris Wilder celebrates a victory at Bolton. Pic: Sportimage

This time, they board that same coach for Bolton with altogether loftier ambitions. After storming back to win the League One title that season, with a club-record 100 points, United dispelled any notion that they would be one-season wonders by finishing 10th in the Championship, threatening to gatecrash the play-offs until the penultimate game of the season.

Along the way, some memorable games against Bolton - and their manager Phil Parkinson, Wilder’s former teammate as a youngster at Southampton - have followed, a 2-0 Billy Sharp-inspired victory at Bramall Lane in February 2017 helping the champion Blades finish a huge 14 points ahead of second-placed Wanderers.

This campaign, though, Bolton sit joint-top of the embryonic Championship table with 10 points from their opening four games, including an impressive opening-day victory at West Brom.

“It’s been a really good start by them... they will be delighted,” Wilder said. “To sit third in the table, you have to win games of football.

“They are always finely fought games between us and them... even going back to our first game of the season in League One, that was a tight game.

“I don’t think there has been anything between us in all the games we have played, with mixed results.

“I am expecting another tight game because both clubs know what to expect. Everybody says the league settles down after 10 games, so we are looking for that consistency.

“We have won our last two games and want a big finish before the international break. We have two interesting games, and if we get a good result at Bolton it sets us up for Villa at home.”

United could be boosted by the availability of Mark Duffy before the trip over the Pennines, but George Baldock (ankle) and Kean Bryan won’t be involved, the latter still getting up to speed with his fitness after missing a large chunk of pre-season after arriving from Manchester City.

As The Star reported earlier this week, Paul Coutts  will play a behind-closed-doors game next week in a significant step in his recovery from a broken leg suffered at Burton Albion last season.

“We have Mark back from his illness, so that’s good news for us,” Wilder said.

“Paul will face a game next week which is good news for all of us. It’s brilliant.

“We took him down to QPR with us, he did the warm up, and it was a lift for the supporters and - more importantly - the players.

“He’s a big voice in that changing room. He’s been excellent in his rehab, and seeing him at full tilt in training is the next stage.

“He has to go through the clearance process - of playing 30, 60, 75, 90 minutes…so it will be another three or four weeks.

“So we are looking possibly at the end of next month when he will be knocking on the door. It will be like having a new signing.”