Everton v Sheffield United: This was our worst performance of the season, says Chris Wilder
At Goodison Park, the place where Clough’s Nottingham Forest side started out their top-flight education in August, 1977, the Sheffield United manager reflected on a road victory which left him distinctly unimpressed.
Many would have basked in the glow of witnessing the Blades’ first Premier League away win since December, 2006, but not Wilder. “I won’t con the punters. It was possibly the worst we have played all season,” was his typically forthright and honest take.
His players did not receive initial backslaps in the dressing room either, with Wilder acknowledging it may have been the ‘mardy Yorkshireman’ in him – with it taking Phil Jagielka to make the point of what his side had just done.
Namely become the first side to win at Everton since Manchester City achieved that feat in early February, with the Blues heading into the game on a six-match winning streak on home soil, with the list of the vanquished including Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Almost certainly, it was Wilder’s way of keeping his players on their toes. A bit like Cloughie – a master at picking up individuals when they were on the floor and cutting them down to size when they were feeling overly good about themselves. A master of the unexpected.
If he was listening up in the footballing heavens, Clough would have given Wilder one of his trademark thumbs-up.
Like Clough’s feted Forest side, Wilder’s team contains players who have tasted some tough moments in their career before flowering once again. Individuals often hardened by rejection and adversity.
That number includes midfielder John Lundstram, who found Mersey paradise at long last on Saturday.
Shown the door at Goodison without donning the famous royal blue jersey at first-team level, the Liverpudlian – who rebuilt his career at Oxford United – finally had his moment in front of family and friends in his home city.
His day was crowned by a sublime slide-rule assist to set up Lys Mousset for United’s game-sealing second goal.
It was the sort of perfectly-weighted pass which would have brought endless gushing praise from pundits if it had been delivered by a Kevin De Bruyne, Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen.
But probably not Lundstram. It should have done.
He said: “I was just thankful Lys just put it away. It was a great run from him. I got it around the centre-half and he put it through (Jordan) Pickford’s legs.
“It is an outball and real release for you. The gaffer pulled me about five minutes before I made the pass and said: ‘Get Moose down the sides’ and I did that and he put it away and it is a real outball for us.
“I would not like it (his pace) if I was a centre-half. He is just powerful and a beast and when he turns the burners on, there is no catching him.”
On his redemptive moment at Everton, the Liverpudlian added: “It was a really special day.
“I was raring to go and it was always the one I was looking forward to when the fixtures came out. I have finally got it over with and to get a win has just made it really special.
“I had people coming out of the woodwork on Saturday morning texting me for tickets. I tried to do my best for everyone to try and get them in.
“I have lot of friends and family who are Blues and they were all texting me saying: ‘I hope you get beat by the lads’ and I will give it to them later.”
For Wilder, the sight of the ‘crackers industry’ of football coming full circle in the space of seven days was at least something he will have appreciated.
A week on from being extremely unfortunate in taking home nothing from an accomplished performance against Southampton – on an afternoon when the VAR fates went against him – the fates smiled on Wilder’s side.
This time, technology did not rule out a United goal when Yerry Mina diverted Oli Norwood’s super whipped-in inswinging corner past Pickford, with no foul deemed to have been made on the England goalkeeper in the build-up by Jack O’Connell.
It was a day when United mustered one shot on target and scored two goals. Wilder’s pre-match assertion that top-flight teams are judged by what happened in both boxes could not have been more valid.
Mousset’s finish was clinical and at the other end, the Blades’ back three were exceptional and the handling of Dean Henderson was close to faultless in a defensive display in which the discipline was textbook.
United’s ‘they-shall-not pass’ attitude was summed up 15 minutes from time. A marvellous last-ditch tackle from the immaculate John Egan denied Moise Kean, with former Everton captain Jagielka’s follow-up block to thwart Cenk Tosun being equally heroic.
Over the course of the piece, a United head or boot got in the way of almost everything against witless hosts who looked a team of lost souls by the final whistle, when they were booed off.
Everton gorged on possession before the break but the passing was too lateral and the tempo too slow.
Forward options were thrown on by the sharply-attired Marco Silva, looking slick in a dark suit on the touchline, but it was Wilder – in his training ground togs – who proved the sharper.