Wilson scored twice on his Premier League debut but withered on the vine at Old Trafford, though his Wembley masterclass for Port Vale proved his talent remains
Image: Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel)
James Wilson is the kid who scored twice on his Premier League debut for Manchester United – and had to wait eight years to reap the glory.
When Wilson backed interim United manager Ryan Giggs’ judgement with a pair of slick finishes against Hull in May 2014, an 18-year-old boy wonder seemed to have the world at his feet. His talent withered on the vine when Louis van Gaal sent him out on loan to gain experience, and then Jose Mourinho turned the pathway from academy to first team at Old Trafford into a bottleneck.
But as Port Vale returned to League One with a Wembley play-off romp, Wilson’s masterclass proved he had not mislaid all the good habits he acquired at United – they have merely been on tour. Now 26, he has matured into a Teddy Sheringham-type forward, contributing 15 goals and intelligent link-up play towards the Valiants’ promotion party.
Wilson said: “Besides my debut for United, you can’t really top the way I’m feeling at the minute. This is one of the memories that will stick with me until I die.
“Obviously the path I’ve taken has been scenic, and I come into training and work hard, as I’ve done for all the other teams I’ve played for, but this is where I’ve been happiest.
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“I didn’t know what to expect when I left United, because my whole life had been centred around them since I was nine years old. But the loan moves I went on gave me the hunger to become a man and the experiences I learned while I was there teed me up for this.
“Port Vale are now reaping the benefit of those experiences and I owe a lot to United because they gave me the confidence to play in these sorts of games.”
From Derby to Sheffield United, Aberdeen and Salford City, Wilson’s career appeared to have stalled until Vale snapped him up on a free transfer last summer. But those good habits from his United days never deserted him, and his manager Darrell Clarke – serenading his man of the match with a giddy chorus of ‘Walking in a Wilson Wonderland’ in the bowels of Wembley – paid tribute to his maturity.
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Clarke said: “James has still got unbelievable talent and he’s probably enjoying his football more than he’s ever enjoyed it.”
Mansfield were undone by a torrid 15 minutes in which Kian Harratt and Wilson put Vale 2-0 up and then Oli Hawkins – booked 14 times during the season – got himself sent off before the break for two more yellow cards. Mal Benning, whose parents are Indian Sikhs, made it a memorable day for British Asians in football by volleying Vale’s third.
Stags manager Nigel Clough said: “I’ve been relegated on the last day of the season with four minutes to go at Burton, but this is hard to take. We didn’t do ourselves justice.”