Thwarted Blades in no mood to throw in the towel
SHEFFIELD UNITED 1
MANAGER Chris Wilder and his Sheffield United side will remain defiant to the end.
Many will have left Bramall Lane believing this stalemate could ultimately have wrecked the play-off ambitions of both sides. Yet, by all rights, two clubs who have come up from League One on limited budgets should have been out of contention a long time ago.
The Blades are three points adrift of sixth-placed Millwall with a home game against Preston (eighth) sandwiched between trips to struggling Birmingham and Bristol City (11th) to conclude the regular season and Wilder believes they can claim maximum points.
“I think we can win the last three. We have a home game ahead of the last game of the season and if we are still in the mix then, which I imagine we will be, it will be great,” said the Sheffield United boss.
“Everybody is hoping we can take it to the final day. It is a ridiculous, unpredictable division. It was my 100th game and I have to remember what they have given me as a group, but there is that little bit at the back of your head saying, ‘we should be better, we should be in a better position’.
“But we will go again and put the pressure on the Derbys of this world and the Middlesbroughs of the world. Fair play to the Millwalls of the world and the Sheffield Uniteds of the world because of what they are doing this season.”
Millwall’s run-in looks tougher than the Blades’ as they face the third-, fourth- and fifth-placed clubs with their trip to Middlesbrough a week on Saturday likely to have an important bearing on the Blades, Derby (seventh) and Preston’s chances.
On Saturday, after a sparring session of a first half, Bramall Lane’s 27,454 crowd was treated to the sight of two teams of contrasting styles going toe to toe for victory.
Neither goalkeeper was in the mood to be beaten, however, Jamal Blackman, back from suspension, and Millwall’s Jordan Archer pulling off a string of fine saves.
It took both captains to beat them, the goals coming within two minutes of each other.
The Blades took a 74th-minute lead when Lee Evans saw his initial corner repelled before he whipped the ball back in and Jack O’Connell stretched to knock it back across the six-yard area where Clarke stooped to head home his 18th goal of the campaign in front of a delighted Kop.
The Blades switched off, though, and a long ball from Jake Cooper was latched onto by veteran striker Steve Morison, who struck a first-time equaliser across Blackman to stretch Millwall’s remarkable unbeaten run to 17 matches.
Blackman admitted: “Yes, it was one of those frustrating ones where you go one-nil ahead and then it so quickly changes to 1-1. We had worked so hard to take three points, but have to take the one.
“It’s so tight at the moment and any result could change the whole picture, but we still believe we can get into the play-offs.
“We have such a tight group and we know we can do. We have done so well coming with the buzz we had from last season and that pushes everyone to do as well as possible and believe we can still make it. We have had a great season so far and we want to push on until the end of the season. We all want to give it 110 per cent.”
Millwall manager Neil Harris, whose side were five minutes away from missing out on a playoff place last season, believed this was a point gained rather than two lost, although he felt his side should have been awarded an 85th-minute penalty when Chris Basham shoved Jed Wallace to the floor – and Wilder agreed.
Former Leeds striker Morison said of his equaliser: “That could be one of the most crucial goals of the season. We knew it would be a tough game because they had to beat us and we move on with another point.
“It was just instinct for the goal. I could see the ’keeper coming and it was a nice calm finish. I am not going to stand here and say I knew exactly what I was going to do, I am a much better player when I work on instinct.
“I am not as good when I have time in the box, but it was a big goal.”
The Millwall captain, rested in midweek, continued by expressing sentiments that could easily have come out of the Blades camp. “Everyone is calm and I said in the huddle before the game that we have something unique at this football club.
“We are lucky because we know we have a dressing room with players who are going to run and fight for you and will pull you out of it if you are having a bad game of it. I was having a bad game, but managed to pull us out of it.
“We are not feeling any pressure. Everyone keeps talking about it, but we are not. The only time we will feel pressure is when we step out at Wembley on May 26 because then it’s real, but what is there to feel pressure about? We are not expected to be here and everyone expects us to fall away.
“We are living the dream right now. There is no one who can tell me they knew this was going to happen. We never planned for this and we can just enjoy the ride now. The table doesn’t lie and, after 43 games, we are exactly where we should be.”
HEADING HOME: Sheffield United captain Leon Clarke heads home the 74th-minute opening goal before substitute Billy Sharp, inset, goes close to being the match-winner with an instep volley that brought a great save from Millwall goalkeeper Jordan Archer.