CHRIS WILDER’S 100 league games in charge of Sheffield United have included enough genuine ‘I was there’ moments for supporters to suggest he will never have to buy a pint again when socialising among the red and white half of the Steel City.
The 4-2 derby triumph at Hillsborough almost exactly a year ago obviously stands out among his 54 victories, the highest tally by any manager in the club’s history after a century of matches.
But there have been plenty of other memorable moments along the way, be it the clinching of promotion from League One with 100 points through to the stunning dismantling of Aston Villa at Bramall Lane earlier this month.
By those high standards, Wednesday night’s clash with Birmingham City was a pretty lacklustre way for Wilder to bring up his century.
The below par Blades were hugely fortunate to escape with a point from a clash that saw Garry Monk’s men hit the post twice and spurn a host of chances.
Few in red and white did themselves justice, save perhaps for a defence that was worked almost as hard as the emergency services during the gale-force winds that had lashed Britain throughout Wednesday.
Record signing John Egan, in particular, stood tall amid a late onslaught that brought no less than four gilt-edged opportunities inside the final 10 minutes.
Thanks to that profligacy of those in blue – plus one brave save from Dean Henderson at the death – this late flurry of chances went begging to ensure Wilder’s landmark night did, at least, end on the positive of a return to the play-off places.
The 988 Blues fans who made the trip to South Yorkshire may still be bemused on Thursday morning at how a side so outclassed by their own team in that second half can be so high up the table when Monk’s men are still without a league win this season. But Wilder has instilled such a strong spirit at Bramall Lane since his arrival during the summer of 2016 to ensure that United are able to dig deep even when struggling to find any rhythm of their own.
There is no denying the quality that can be found among the Blues’ ranks with Jota likely to walk into any Championship team, while Che Adams, Jacques Maghoma and Lukas Jutkiewicz all boast plenty of experience at this level.
Jutkiewicz, a £1m signing back in the days before Birmingham hit the financial rocks, came the closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half with a searing drive that Henderson did well to turn on to the post.
John Fleck getting caught in possession by Gary Gardner had led to an opening that was comfortably the closest the 23,525 crowd came to a goal in those opening 45 minutes.
United huffed and puffed, and dominated possession. A succession of dangerous crosses were also launched into the Birmingham penalty area by the hosts but Lee Camp’s only real action came when having to turn away a deflected Mark Duffy shot.
He was much busier immediately after the restart, Camp having to get down bravely to deny George Baldock after the wing-back had been released by a slide-rule pass from Oliver Norwood. The Blues goalkeeper was in action again eight minutes into the second half when beating away a Duffy shot.
Soon, though, the game had descended into the soporific ways of the first half with one desperate passage of play seeing both sides pass the ball straight out for a throw-in twice in quick succession.
The game needed a lift and Wilder did his best by bringing on three forwards in Ben Woodburn, David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp.
For much of the closing stages, however, the trio were effectively spectators as all the real action was played out at the other end. Birmingham, with Jota outstanding, really should have got that first victory of the season.
That they didn’t can be put down to Omar Bogle somehow firing over the crossbar from a couple of yards out.
Admittedly the knock-down from Jutkiewicz fell slightly behind the Cardiff City loanee but he had to do better with Henderson caught out of position by Jota’s delivery from the right flank.
Moments earlier, Jota had again caused problems in the United six-yard box with a corner that Egan hacked to safety after the home defence had initially been unable to clear.
After Bogle’s miss, there was still time for two more let-offs for the hosts. First, Gardner curled an exquisite free-kick round the wall and against Henderson’s left-hand post before the ball bounced to safety.
Then, after Fleck had again been caught in possession inside the Birmingham half, a lightning quick break ended with Henderson saving bravely at the feet of substitute Connor Mahoney to ensure Wilder’s special night ended on the positive of a hard-fought point.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Fleck, Duffy (Woodburn 77), Norwood, Johnson; Clarke (Sharp 69), Washington (McGoldrick 61). Unused substitutes: Stevens, Lundstram, Stearman, Moore.
Birmingham City: Camp, Colin, Morison, Dean, Pedersen; Jota, Gardner, Lakin (Harding 89), Maghoma (Mahoney 78); Adams (Bogle 69), Jutkiewicz. Unused substitutes: Roberts, Solomon-Otabor, Trueman, Lubala.
Referee: G Ward (Surrey).