It’s tough love from Chris Wilder as Sheffield United fail to shock

Dean Henderson of Sheffield Utd reacts after the ball squirmed under him to concede the winning goal against Lverpool. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Dean Henderson of Sheffield Utd reacts after the ball squirmed under him to concede the winning goal against Lverpool. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
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THERE is no point telling your grandkids that you played against Liverpool because you keep bloody losing to them.

Those post-match words delivered by exasperated former Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett to his Wimbledon players in the home dressing room at Plough Lane following a mid-Eighties defeat to Liverpool – which formed part of a behind-the-scenes documentary – will chime with Chris Wilder.

Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd gets in front of Andrew Robertson of Liverpool but hits the ball over the bar.

Leon Clarke of Sheffield Utd gets in front of Andrew Robertson of Liverpool but hits the ball over the bar.

A beer with opposite number Jurgen Klopp on Saturday may have ensured that Wilder was running late for his press conference, but he was sober in his assertions about his side’s display in an unfortunate loss to the Reds.

A harsh setback, yet ultimately a self-inflicted one in the eyes of the Blades chief. An individual who does not care for moral victories, only in the serious business of points.

History will record that this was a third successive home league reverse for the Blades under Wilder’s watch and that is the bottom line for him – regardless of his side’s rousing performance against the league leaders, Champions League holders and all-conquering team currently perceived to be something akin to the hottest club north of Havana.

It explains why there were no soothing words for Dean Henderson, whose grave error settled this context halfway through the second half when he coughed up Georginio Wijnaldum’s routine volley. Or Leon Clarke after his late miss.

Specifically on Henderson, punished for a televised blooper just as he was in a high-profile Bramall Lane with Leeds United last December, Wilder said: “This is a tough sport. Elite level football comes from within.

“He has to find a way to get over it and he has in the past. I am not going to hold his hand or rub his head.

“It amazes me when some pundits say do not criticise players in the press. This game was beamed around the world. He has to learn from it and he will, because he has done it before.

“We are not here to be a good side or get good opinions. We are here for points.

“Frustration is not a big enough word. I do not want to use missed opportunities and frustration. We totally deserved something.

“When these unbelievable sides have off days, we have to capitalise. We did not.

“Norwich did the other week. If we had have shown a little more quality in both boxes, then I think we would be talking about beating the European champions.”

Watched on by ex-IBF world welterweight champion Kell Brook in the house, the Blades looked intent on giving Liverpool a bloody nose and it was soon apparent that their pursuit of a 16th successive league win would not be straightforward.

United’s ultra-compact organisation without the ball was first-class, their work-rate in midfield – personified by John Fleck – was insatiable and Oli McBurnie and Callum Robinson looked intent on running themselves to a standstill.

Some uncharacteristic sloppiness from Liverpool aided United’s feeling that it might, just might, be a special day.

McBurnie fired an early strike at Adrian while Robinson blasted wide following some excellent build-up and at the other end, Liverpool’s fab three of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were strangely subdued.

In time, Mane was afforded two prized sights of goal after United’s mask slipped just twice – but his misses added to the feeling that it was no routine afternoon for the Reds.

Mane spooned the ball wide after latching onto a peach of a pass from Virgil van Dijk, whose cool defending kept Liverpool’s defence together at the other end.

A lightning counter-attack then ended with Mane striking the post – the only other time that United were truly opened up.

Roared by a home crowd who had clearly started to believe, a cacophony of noise hit Liverpool firmly in the face during the second-half. Like ‘playing against a wall’ as Klopp put it afterwards.

A smart turn-away in the nick of time from Adrian denied Oli Norwood before Henderson’s fatal error provided the breakthrough. Should Liverpool lift the big prize in May, they will reflect on this autumnal day in Sheffield.

Henderson soon thwarted Salah, but he will not have been feeling any better about himself. Penny for the thoughts also of Clarke, with the substitute firing over with the goal gaping in his big moment after Fleck’s pass.

Klopp, who made a point of clapping all four sides of the ground at the final whistle, could afford to be magnanimous after Liverpool’s first win at Bramall Lane since 1990.

Wilder was not so giving to his players; it is called tough love. Just ask Henderson.

Offering a player’s take and expressing his fervent belief that Henderson will bounce back, George Baldock said: “Dean sits next to me and he is very upset. He has apologised, but I do not think he needs to apologise.

“He has made a mistake, it is part and parcel of being a goalkeeper. But if you just rewind seven days, he kept us in the game at Everton. He will bounce back.

“He is a very confident lad. He is a top-quality goalkeeper and he will go on to achieve big things in his career.

“I am not worried one bit about him. He is one of the strongest mentalities in the dressing room.

“I just really feel like we missed an opportunity. Whether that was Liverpool not being at their best or whether we nullified their threats and did well going the other way, I am not sure. But definitely it feels like a missed opportunity.”