After the events of last week, the opportunity to play football rather than peacemaker must have seemed like a blessed relief for Chris Wilder.
But now the season is over and there are no other distractions, Sheffield United’s manager knows the spotlight will shine even brighter on the boardroom dispute which has prompted him to question whether his future lies at Bramall Lane.
Those searching for clues about Wilder’s intentions were left disappointed as he again refused to offer any guarantees.
But United’s players and supporters made their feelings known during this win over a Bristol City side which, despite the club’s bottom-six budget, secured 10th place in the Championship table.
“I’ve talked enough about it,” Wilder replied after, for the umpteenth time, being asked if the visit to Ashton Gate marked his final match in charge.
“All of that is for another day. I’ve not wanted to bring what’s happening up but I had to and I thought the timing was right when I did.”
It is a credit to Wilder’s powers of motivation and the professionalism of his team that, after seizing this fixture by the scruff of the neck, they showed enough steel to withstand City’s second-half fightback.
Goals from Leon Clarke, Billy Sharp and Kieron Freeman appeared to have put the fixture beyond the reach of Lee Johnson’s side before Aden Flint and Joe Bryan reduced the deficit.
Simon Moore denied Bobby Reid soon after the the 24-year-old, who is being courted by Burnley, had swept home a free-kick. But the final result was an accurate reflection of the game itself.
City competed in patches. United, as Wilder demands, all the way through.
“It was a great performance,” he said. “I thought we were brilliant first half and really dominated. All the goals were excellent both collectively and individually.”
“I wanted to end (the season) on a high,” Wilder continued. “I didn’t want us going out through the back door or being accused of being on the beach. That, I’m sure, is something that will be levelled at a lot of clubs on the final day.”
With Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud both battling for sole control of the visitors, with the dispute impacting upon his preparations for the next Championship campaign, Wilder has spent the past nine days completing a crash course in realpolitik.
By the 50-year-old’s own admission, neither faction will have appreciated his decision to go public following last month’s meeting with Preston North End.
But, once reaching the top six became mathematically impossible, Wilder calculated it was time to bring matters to a head. The clarity he craves might not have been forthcoming. But while those at the top remain silent, the actions of Wilder’s squad spoke a thousand words.
“What really pleased me was that both sides of our game were there,” he continued.
“We started off great, played some excellent stuff, and I thought we dominated it. But it’s never easy coming here.
“We knew they would stick it on us late on. We knew their intensity would go up but we dug in and did what we had to do. That, for me, was really pleasing to see.”
The creative friction between Clarke and Sharp proved the catalyst for this win. When one scores, the other appears doubly motivated to write his name on the scoresheet.
So, after watching his teammate break the deadlock in emphatic fashion, Sharp extended United’s advantage with an expertly-executed volley from John Fleck’s pass.
Freeman’s effort, his first since the final day of the previous season, was equally impressive.
“There’s a lot of snobbery in football and they, Billy and Leon, will have heard everyone telling them they wouldn’t be able to do it at this level,” Wilder said. “But for them to do what they’ve done, it tells you a lot about them. It also tells you a lot about the chances we create and how we go about things as a team.”
Clarke exorcised fears the uncertainty surrounding Wilder would result in an insipid performance when, with less than 10 minutes gone, he fired home beyond Frank Fielding.
City did not sense danger when United’s most prolific marksman ambled forward from a deep lying position. But Clarke was aware of the possibilities and suddenly, almost out of nothing, powered home from long distance after picking his spot perfectly.
Sharp, the United captain, tightened United’s grip on proceedings with an equally impressive strike midway through the opening period.
John Fleck, again a dynamic presence in midfield, swept a pass from one flank to the other which his team mate, ghosting into position at the far post, converted first time.
Freeman steered the ball past Fielding from a similar angle after combining with Clarke.
Johnson, who revealed he had made “a monumental speech” during the interval, rubbed his brow in frustration. But he was was dancing with delight when first Flint and then Bryan, from a dead -ball situation, put the outcome back in doubt.
“We’ve finished above some huge clubs,” Wilder said. “There are some massive teams in this division whose seasons were over by Christmas and yet we took it to the last but one game.
“That’s something I think we can be really proud of. I know I am.”