Why Chris Wilder knows the pressure Dean Smith is under at Aston Villa
A couple of hours before kick-off, once Aston Villa have unpacked their belongings in the away dressing room at Bramall Lane, Chris Wilder and Dean Smith will probably find the time to enjoy a conversation about their shared experiences.
They include winning promotion from the Championship and the challenge of trying to compete in the Premier League.
But most notably, Wilder acknowledged ahead of Sheffield United’s latest top-flight encounter, the demands of managing the club you have supported since childhood.
And the weight of responsibility that places upon your shoulders despite being the realisation of a dream.
“It’s not easy,” Wilder said. “It’s definitely not easy but then again, this job never is.
“The run Dean went on there, when he first came in, was remarkable. Outstanding in fact.
“People talk about being boyhood fans. But I know the pressure Dean will have put himself under.
“So to get those results, to go up in the manner they did, I was delighted for Dean and his players.”
Villa were 15th in the table when they appointed Smith in October last year, before going on to win 19 of their next 37 matches and go up via the play-offs.
United did even better, finishing second behind champions Norwich City and edging Leeds into third.
Ten of their 26 victories, which included a 4-1 thrashing of tomorrow’s visitors, came following February’s draw at Villa Park. Remarkably, Smith’s men had trailed 3-0 with only 10 minutes remaining.
“It was interesting in the changing room afterwards,” Wilder said.
“I stepped in for about 15 minutes of them and it was lively and entertaining.
“A few things were spoken about but nothing went over the top and it showed how much the players cared.
“It was difficult to take at the time, because we’d been outstanding for the most part. But the reaction was first class and ultimately that turned out to be the springboard for us to go on and get promotion.”
Despite describing that fixture as a pivotal moment in United’s campaign, Wilder also warned it demonstrated the fighting spirit within Villa’s expensively assembled squad.
They travel north in 17th, while United are eighth.
“It’s up to them and Dean how they go with their finances,” Wilder said, noting the difference in resources between the two teams.
“Every club is different. They did what they did and we did what we did.”
“Looking at this one, it should be a great game because there’s a familiarity between the two clubs,” Wilder added.
“At our place, the fans were saying it was one of our best performances. At their place, although we will look at it as being self-inflicted, for them to come back like that showed the commitment Dean’s lads have got and why they can’t be under-estimated.”