Blades fans looking to buck trend

Wednesday 1st May 2013 15:33

Sheffield United fans: Set for another play-off campaign

Sheffield United fans: Set for another play-off campaign

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Sheffield United have never won a play-off campaign in six previous attempts - but Blades FanZoner Leo Watson has found cause for optimism.

So once again, the Blades have found themselves putting their fate in the hands of the play-off lottery.

Despite the positive start to Chris Morgan's reign at S2, United were ultimately condemned to fight it out with three other League One sides for the privilege of gracing the Championship next year.

Having read through my previous blogs, and as anyone who knows me will vigorously testify, I can frequently be guilty of erring on the side of negativity. And if ever there was an appropriate time to do just that, it would be now. To my knowledge, the Blades have competed in six play-off campaigns and have been unsuccessful in each and every one.

It started back in 1988 with a loss to Bristol City in the old Second / Third Division play-off semi-final, resulting in relegation. Since then, United have lost once more in the semi-finals, to Sunderland in 1998, and a record four times in the final to Crystal Palace (1997), Wolves (2003), Burnley (2009) and Huddersfield (2012), without so much as having registered a goal in the any of those appearances (excluding the penalty shoot-out against Huddersfield). This gives the Blades the unenviable record of having lost a play-off final at both the old and new Wembley and the Millennium Stadium, i.e. every possible final venue.

However, in spite of the poor current league form - which has yielded only one win from the past eight games and no goals for in the past three - and past experience, there is some cause to be upbeat about this year's play-off campaign.

The pressure is undoubtedly off. Not too many pundits or fans are talking up the Blades' chances this time around (unlike last year), largely owing to the miserable run of form and the perceived turmoil at the club in the wake of Danny Wilson's departure. Consequently, most fans are understandably braced for the worst.

But as far as I can tell, this is exactly why Chris Morgan was drafted in at the last minute to salvage the season. Judging from the performances this term, the squad has lacked passion, drive and self-belief - a guaranteed recipe for play-off misery. Since Ched Evans' infamous departure from the side, the Blades have lost their swagger and a lot of their fight. It is worth remembering that they only managed one goal in last season's play-off campaign.

Under Morgan, the fight - if not the swagger - has certainly returned to the performances. Yes, Portsmouth was a calamity, but a change in attitude is clear for all to see. The crowd, growing continually dissatisfied under Wilson, seem to be largely back on side under the new regime which is critical ahead of Friday's home leg and the competition the Blades are up against is hardly fierce.

Compared to last season, League One is woefully weak. The likes of Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield posed a real challenge and were all good teams in their own right. But since their promotion, and the relegation of some very average sides from the Championship, nobody has come close to that standard this season (including the sides automatically promoted). This means there isn't anyone for Morgan's men to fear in the play-offs.

Despite being forced into using one of the oldest clichés in the book, I truly believe promotion really is there for the taking this time around. With a bit of passion, fearlessness and self-belief, any one of the four teams involved could be popping the champagne on 19 May and this is exactly where Morgan and assistant David Unsworth's influence can have a huge effect on the outcome.

And wouldn't it be just like Sheffield United to finally grab their chance when everybody least expects it? Let's hope so.

By Leo Watson, FanZone's Sheffield United blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @LeoWatson1889 - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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