Stoke City 2 Sheffield United 2: We won’t take a wrecking ball to this team, says Chris Wilder

LAS VEGAS awaits Sheffield United’s celebrating players later this week, but it is the high rollers of the Premier League who will be most occupying the thoughts of manager Chris Wilder this summer.

Chris Wilder, manager of Sheffield United, with captain Billy Sharp after their 2-2 draw at Stoke City on the final day of the season (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).

The curtain came down yesterday on a season in which the Blades have well and truly hit the jackpot.

Second-half goals from Kieran Dowell and Enda Stevens ensured United got their reward via this draw with Stoke City after initially being dealt a bad hand by the officials.

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It was not enough to scoop the title, Norwich City’s victory at Aston Villa rendering the result at the bet365 Stadium academic in the battle for the title.

Keiran Dowell brings Sheffield United level for the first time at Stoke City on Sunday (Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage).

But Wilder remains justifiably proud of his side defying the odds to clinch a promotion that means a big summer lies ahead at Bramall Lane.

“There will be big challenges next season,” he said, “but what a great reward for this football club.

“We have to bring a few (signings) in – especially if we play like we did first half. Dear me.

“But we will not take a wrecking ball to it. Recruitment is something we work hard at. We are not lazy with that.

Enda Stevens scores Sheffield United's second goal and second equaliser against Stoke City (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).

“There are some great stories in this group. The journey of Mark Duffy from Prescot Cables to playing at Anfield as a Liverpool supporter is one. Then there is Jack O’Connell, Enda Stevens, the skipper (Billy Sharp), David McGoldrick.

“They deserve the right to step out on to these grounds. But, as always, you can’t be sentimental about it.

“We have to improve as a team and play smarter. We have to all up our game, from staff to players.”

This Bank Holiday weekend half a dozen years ago the Blades suffered the seventh of eight failures in the play-offs.

Yeovil Town, en route to the Championship at the time but now back in non-League, were the team who ended United’s involvement in 2013 at the semi-final stage courtesy of a 2-0 second leg triumph at Huish Park.

Many of those from South Yorkshire forced to endure that miserable return journey from Somerset in the holiday traffic were among the red-and-white clad hordes who descended on Stoke yesterday in party mood.

So it was no wonder the 2,903 fans whose loyalty over the campaign guaranteed them a prized ticket for the final-day trip to the Potteries were up for a good time.

‘Allez, Allez, Allez...’ rang out time and time again, United supporters clearly having been busy this week learning the lyrics to the reworked version John Egan had unveiled to a rapturous reception at last Sunday’s Player of the Year ‘do’.

A host of the Irishman’s team-mates are name-checked in the ditty, as is Wilder for “playing proper football, the Sheff United way’. The new song of choice for Unitedites then ends with the words, ‘We’re going on a journey, to the f****** Prem’.

During a first half featuring two big calls for the officials Wilder and his players may have wished that journey had already begun due to the top flight next season having VAR.

Sam Vokes’s opening goal on 19 minutes was a finish worthy of the Premier League, the former Burnley striker volleying in from 20 yards out.

But the United defence were adamant Vokes had been offside when James McClean fired a raking pass in his direction.

O’Connell ended up winning the aerial tussle, so had the last touch before Vokes struck. Even so the Blades players looked well within their rights to complain, first to referee Geoff Eltringham and then his linesman.

The protests did no good. As was the case shortly before the interval when Billy Sharp’s snapshot was diverted on to a post by Ryan Shawcross with what the United captain was adamant had been the use of a hand.

Again the inability to gain a second opinion on a controversial call meant the Blades carried a sense of injustice into an interval that saw Wilder make two changes to pep up his side.

Kieran Dowell, one of those brought off the bench, brought United level within two minutes of the restart.

Collecting an inside pass from the ever dependable John Fleck, the Everton loanee displayed a cool head to beat England goalkeeper Jack Butland.

Once level the visitors stepped up a gear as Sharp dragged a shot wide and then John Lundstram, the other half-time substitute, burst into the area only to pass the ball when a shot was on.

Stoke regained the lead 21 minutes from time when Shawcross stole a march on Chris Basham to sidefoot an in-swinging corner from Tom Ince past Dean Henderson from close range.

But United refused to be beaten and simply did what they have done all season when faced with a setback. Namely they rolled up their sleeves and charged head first back into the fray.

Their reward came just six minutes after falling behind for a second time. A swift break saw Dowell find Sharp wide on the right with a precise pass.

United’s captain and talisman cut inside a challenge before shaping as if to shoot. Instead he rolled a pass to Stevens.

The wing-back had netted three times in his previous five appearances for the Blades, a remarkable record for someone who a month ago had managed just one goal since moving north to Bramall Lane from Portsmouth two years ago.

Stevens’s confidence from this prolific run was clear to see as he took a touch before drilling a low shot past Butland to ensure the party continues for the Blades.