VICTORIOUS manager Chris Wilder last night labelled Sheffield United’s Steel City derby triumph as “the proudest moment of my career”.
Two goals from Leon Clarke plus a spectacular strike apiece by John Fleck and Mark Duffy helped secure a 4-2 win over Wednesday at Hillsborough.
It was the first time a visiting side had scored four goals in the history of a derby that stretches back nearly 124 years, leaving Wilder hugely proud of his players.
“I can’t put into words what this means to me,” said the United manager, who 24 hours earlier had celebrated his 50th birthday.
“Everything was on the result of this derby. Please don’t tell me anyone who supports both clubs thought this game was just about three points.
“Or, how it was really about league positions and this being a long, old season. Don’t tell me that. This meant everything for both clubs.”
Yesterday’s derby was the first since February, 2012. A 1-0 victory for the hosts in that Hillsborough clash proved to be the turning point in a tussle for automatic promotion that, come the season’s end, would see Wednesday pip the Blades to second place. United’s misery was then compounded by defeat in the play-off final to Huddersfield Town at Wembley.
“It is the proudest moment of my career,” added an emotional Wilder, who had two spells at Bramall Lane as a player. “The last time I was here (at Hillsborough) they beat us. We have had to swallow quite a lot over the last six years.
“We have had that rammed down our throats for those last six years so to give the supporters something back was special.
“Carlos (Carvalhal, Wednesday head coach) said during the build-up that he slept all right. Well, I didn’t sleep a wink for seven days. This win means everything.”
United’s joy at getting one over their neighbours was in stark contrast to the mood in the Owls’ camp. Having fallen behind to goals from Fleck and Clarke inside the first 15 minutes, Wednesday were given an unexpected lifeline by Gary Hooper pulling a goal back during first-half stoppage-time.
An equaliser followed in the 67th minute through Lucas Joao to leave Hillsborough rocking only for a sublime finish from Duffy to restore the visitors’ advantage just 107 seconds later. Clarke then rounded off a historic afternoon for the Blades with his second goal of the game against his former club.
Deflated Owls head coach Carvalhal said: “We did not under-estimate Sheffield United, not at all. But we did make mistakes that we never usually make.
“Those mistakes are my responsibility. I want all the pressure on me, I do not want any on my players. I want them to be free to react because there is a lot of games still to come.
“We have another on Wednesday (at Birmingham City) and then next Sunday we have another classic against Leeds at home. We want a reaction from this defeat.”
As for United, the celebratory scenes on the pitch at the final whistle as Wilder punched the air in time with the shouts of the equally-elated visiting supporters spoke volumes for what the victory meant to a club who only escaped League One last May after a six-year stint.
“It was a great day for being a Blade,” he added. “This is a proper football city with two proper clubs. We saw that during the derby; this place was rocking when they got it back to 2-2. Toe-to-toe stuff.
“You have enough lows in football to mean this sometimes is not an enjoyable job. I have been through those so I was going to enjoy this. I wasn’t being disrespectful to anyone, just enjoying the moment with our fantastic supporters.
“I am not criticising anyone connected with the opposition because they have their own agendas and why should they be bothered about us when we haven’t been in this division for six years?
“But we are a dangerous team and I don’t think their supporters realised that. Maybe the English managers, coaches and players get tagged with just being about running around and booting the ball anywhere, and about having no tactical nous.
“I felt we produced a top-class performance against a really good side who were bang in form. But I have to say Carlos is a class act; he came up to me afterwards and wished us well. It no doubt is a difficult day for Sheffield Wednesday when we roll into their backyard and play like that, but he was class.”
Match report: Page 3.