IT would be pushing it somewhat to suggest that Chris Wilder’s birthday weekend will prove anything like as momentous as his milestone last year.
The Sheffield United manager may have turned 50 on this corresponding weekend last September, but that does not quite tell the whole story. Far from it.
Taking three precious points on enemy territory across the Steel City on September 24, 2017 was the only present that the dyed-in-the-wool ‘Blade’ was interested in – and that arrived in a spectacular 4-2 win at Hillsborough, albeit the day after he reached his half-century.
Wilder’s red and white affinities were never more in evidence than on that famous autumnal afternoon.
Victory today would not feel as heartfelt, but it is probably the only gift he is plainly interested in receiving – ahead of his 51st birthday tomorrow.
Passion for his club oozes from every pore of the Blades chief and it is something that goalkeeper Dean Henderson has grown to quickly respect and appreciate – albeit in his capacity as a Cumbrian.
Defeats hurt for any manager, but Wilder feels the pain that little bit more than others. Each success also possesses that extra element of sweetness.
It is something that Henderson is aware of and, in its own way, it has helped to forge an emotional bond between him and his place of work in 2018-19.
Henderson said: “I have seen a few grumpy mornings, but that is the same with every manager.
“No-one likes to lose and certainly not him, being a Sheffield United fan. What I love about this club is that they have got someone like that in.
“Me and John Egan are always making jokes when he does his team talks and is saying: ‘Come on...’ But you will run through brick walls for him as you know how passionate he is and how much he wants the club to do well. It is outstanding.
“He is great in the changing room with his pre-match speech. If you feel any nerves or anything, you do not feel them. You feel great and just want to go out and go to war. It is mad really, he is really good at what he does. That is why he has been so successful, there is no secret to that.
“It is new for me as I have only worked under a few managers. But to see what he is like with the players and around the club, it is a breath of fresh air.
“You know where you stand with him. Some managers try and go under the radar and do this and that. But with the gaffer, he is straight and if you are doing something wrong, he will tell you and if you are doing something well, he will give you a pat on the back.
It is new for me as I have only worked under a few managers. But to see what he is like with the players and around the club, it is a breath of fresh air. You know where you stand with him.Dean Henderson
“Then, if he does not say too much, you know to keep doing what you are doing because you are obviously in his good books. That is what you need from a manager – honesty.”
Six weeks into his Blades adventure, Henderson’s status has transformed from simply being Sheffield United’s loan goalkeeper to being ‘Deano’ in the eyes of Unitedites.
It is testament to the fulsome impact made on the pitch by the 21-year-old, whose reputation was enhanced in the midweek draw with Birmingham.
Away from it, the club have also seeped into his soul, with his pride at representing United being no hollow assertion.
The responsibility of helping to ensure that the red and white half of Sheffield go home happy when they make their pilgrimage to Bramall Lane also sits well on his shoulders.
The Manchester United custodian, whose exploits in helping Shrewsbury to the play-off final ensure he will always be remembered fondly in Shropshire, said: “Everywhere I have been, I have bought into the clubs I have played for; Grimsby, Shrewsbury and now Sheffield United as they are helping me massively in giving me the opportunity. I want to help them go to the next level.
“We were unfortunate with Shrewsbury last season and I was gutted. But, hopefully, this season can be really special.
“This is the first big club and real fan-base for me where you are playing in front of 25,000 a week which is fantastic.
“The atmosphere gives you goosebumps. This will be special for the rest of my career.”
The Blades’s last weekend appointment at S2 proved a glorious one with their magnificent 4-1 victory over Aston Villa resonating across the Championship.
If there is anything resembling an encore today, then Wilder will be afforded another birthday weekend to savour, although Henderson is conscious of the fact that the Blades may now be increasingly seen as a prized scalp on their patch as a result.
He acknowledged: “We are a target now.
“We have got to keep working hard and making sure we are really hard to beat to get some wins under our belts.”