IT IS sensational to think that just three years ago, John Fleck bundled home a last-gasp winner for Sheffield United at Northampton Town.
It was a goal worth around £1.4m, and one that went down in Blades folklore as it secured promotion to the Championship, putting an end to an agonising six-year wait in League One.
A sea of United supporters invaded the pitch, erasing several years of heartache and misery in each buoyant stride.
Draped in the famous red and white colours, they smothered their heroes with the appreciation that the first step in the football club’s reincarnation had been achieved.
The team went on to be crowned champions with 100 points on the board, leaving rivals in the dust. Optimism was restored, Chris Wilder was at the helm and, once again, the Blades were on the rise.
Over the course of a gruelling 46game season, multiple ingredients are needed to produce the perfect recipe for promotion.
For Sheffield United, their recipe was predominantly made up of goals, goals, goals. A phenomenal 92 league goals were scored that year, averaging an impressive two goals per game.
Billy Sharp scored 30 of them, seeing him walk away with the League One top goalscorer award and a key to the red side of the city.
However, the real mastermind came in the form of Wilder, a former Sheffield United player and lifelong fan who grew up just two miles from Bramall Lane. His management career has seen him progress from the lows of the Northern Counties East Premier Division with Alfreton Town, right the way up to his beloved United, now in the top- flight of English football.
Promotions with Alfreton, Oxford United and Northampton Town were the stand-out moments in Wilder’s ever-growing career, until that glorious afternoon at Sixfields.
On the topic of promotion, another man who knows all about that is former Blade, Michael Tonge.
The academy graduate went on to establish himself as a real fans’ favourite the highlight being a promotion to the Premier League under Neil Warnock’s stewardship in 2006.
“What has made it so special is what he’s achieved in such a short period of time,” said Tonge.
“Going from League One to the Premier League, the gulf in standard is massive. So for him to do it with a number of those players is incredible.
“He has never really gone out and signed a superstar as such. He’s had a criteria of certain players, ones that are hungry and have good quality, but, more importantly, ones that fit into the system.
“He deserves a lot of credit for doing it with the team that he has.”
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