FEW managerial reigns can have started in such an inauspicious fashion.
Danny Wilson, formerly of Sheffield Wednesday as both a player and a manager, was appointed at Bramall Lane in the summer of 2011 and this so upset Blades fans that his unveiling was marked by a demonstration in the club’s main car park.
Part of the anger felt by those supporters surely stemmed from the club’s relegation just a few weeks earlier. But, even so, as Wilson spoke to the assembled media to the background of fans outside shouting their objections, few could have predicted just how quickly those doubters would be won over.
Midfielder Michael Doyle, who captained United under the Lancastrian, was as pleased as anyone at the club to see Wilson silence his critics and just wishes his reign could have included a promotion.
“Danny came in at a really hard time for the club,” said the 33-year-old ahead of Wilson’s first return to the Lane since his sacking in the Spring of 2013.
“We had just been relegated from the Championship and there was quite a bit of objection from the fans at his appointment.
“It was also a really uncertain time because we had gone down with a big wage bill. Everyone was well aware that the club would not stand in the way of anyone if an offer came in.
“As a player, it was hard. But Danny came in, got his head down and made a big impression. Straight away, I got the sense that people wanted to play for him.
“I didn’t know Danny at the time, but in his two years, he was really straight with everyone. He was never too high and never too low. I found him brilliant. That first season, we played some great football. We got stronger as the season went on and everyone wanted to be part of it. But, unfortunately, we didn’t go up. It was hard to take.
“We had gone top around Christmas and never really tailed off until the end.”
United’s dejection at missing out on automatic promotion in 2011-12 despite amassing 90 points was only deepened by it being Wednesday who went up in their place. Further disappointment followed with a play-off final defeat to Huddersfield Town on penalties.
Doyle added: “Wembley was a bad day. Danny was as disappointed as all of us. But he got us in and said how proud he was about the season.
“He gave us the belief that we could go again the next year and not have to go through the play-off route.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and Danny left when we were on a bad run.
“But Danny was a brilliant manager to play for. He was great with his players and I can’t speak highly enough about him.”
Wilson’s return today as manager of Barnsley comes at a time when his former club are enjoying their best run of the season.
Five wins from their last six games – and even in the odd one out, Leyton Orient only equalised in the seventh minute of stoppage time – have seen Nigel Clough’s side surge into the play-off spots, while also progressing in both the Capital One Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
For Doyle, now in his fifth season at United, this campaign was always going to be about gelling the squad together in the first couple of months before then really pushing on.
“We had a bit of a slow start,” he said. “But we had a lot of new bodies in the summer and it takes time to get things right.
“The good thing is we are now showing good signs. The belief means we keep going to the very end of every game, as we showed on Tuesday by scoring twice in the final four minutes (to beat MK Dons in the League Cup).
“We have a great spirit and the rewards are coming. I can’t think of too many times in my career where I have played in a team with this kind of belief and spirit.
“Just look at the games we have turned around. Obviously, we would rather not get in that position but it is a bit of steel and determination that we are showing.
“I don’t know why it is happening like that. We are creating chances throughout games and not just at the end.
“Look at Crewe last week. It was a brilliant performance but we only got one goal.
“Hopefully, it will come, and I am pretty sure we will soon win convincingly. There is so much to come from this team.”
United host Barnsley sitting sixth in the League One table, seven points adrift of leaders Bristol City and five behind Preston North End in the second promotion place.
Doyle added: “It is about us hanging in there. Bristol City and Preston have opened up a bit of a gap, but it is very early in the season.
“Preston have won seven or eight on the bounce and if they win their game in hand, they will go top. But our only concern is ourselves.
“It is all about us, both from a league table point of view and from how we treat the opposition. We believe we can get into that top two by winning our games. “
As for today’s derby, Doyle added: “This is one of the bigger games and I am really looking forward to it. There should be a big crowd and a real edge to it.
“Derbies have gone okay. Chesterfield was disappointing but since then we have turned the results around. The win at Bradford gave us terrific belief.
“Last season, we had gone there and lost amid a brilliant atmosphere.
“But I see our 2-0 win there as a big turning point. I doubt too many gave us a chance beforehand but we put in a great performance.”