TOO little, too late. So near but so far…
Any number of phrases could sum up the closing stages of Sheffield United’s relegation-haunted season.
And come the final whistle on Saturday the only thing staying up around Bramall Lane was the South Yorkshire Police helicopter.
During much of Saturday’s match it looked as though the battling Blades might get to take their Championship survival bid to the last game of the season. But the dying minutes of two games elsewhere in the league conjured the perfect relegation storm for the red and white wizards who lost their magic in 2011.
The Blades overturned a one-nil first half deficit and looked set for a victory only to draw 2-2 with late-scoring Barnsley. When relegation rivals Crystal Palace and Doncaster Rovers chalked up equalisers, too, Sheffield United’s fate was sealed.
Decorator Steve Gallacher, a season ticket holder since he was seven, said he knew they were doomed. “I’ve known for three months,” said the 41-year-old dad from Greystones. “I was resigned to them going down so it wasn’t a shock. There was a glimmer of hope but it’s annoying they started to play well when there was nothing to play for.”
Government worker Jacob Dodsworth, 39, of Gleadless Valley, said at least the steel city derby would be back next season. “I am gutted, of course. It is a sad day for Sheffield football and it really does look like we should never have got rid of Neil Warnock.”
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, a season ticket holder for 40 years, said: “The atmosphere was positive for much of the game and the crowd got behind the team, but I guess the result was sadly inevitable and probably summed up our season.
“There are positive signs, particularly with the young players coming through the academy.”
Actor Ray Ashcroft, of Nether Edge, said he watched Saturday’s game with hope.
“We clung on with our fingertips. You always think you can still do it and they were hanging on in there,” he said.
“Barnsley did not send us down, although they would like to think they did, it was the other 21 teams. It’s been an appalling catalogue of appointments by the board the past two years. We had the worst managers who have made the worst choice of players.”
With some saying relegation will also hit the local economy, supporters believe a combination of inadequate players, sacking managers too quickly and the distractions of ventures such as the Chengdu Blades club in China and hotel development have brought decline.
Relegation means Sheffield is without a club in the top two tiers of English football for the first time since 1980.
Sheffield Council leader Coun Paul Scriven said: “It’s a sad day for the city - I want both clubs to be successful but relegation for the Blades will mean lower crowds, less people coming to Sheffield and means the local economy is going to take a hit.”
Fan Lorraine Tann, 56, from Hackenthorpe, said: “Since Kevin Blackwell went, we had Gary Speed, who tried but we needed someone with experience. With Micky Adams, the players haven’t wanted to play for him.”
Peter Whitney, 76, from Gleadless is chairman of Sheffield United Supporters’ Club Executive. He said: There hasn’t been enough stability. Long-term injuries haven’t helped. We have conceded far too many bad goals and some of our loan signings haven’t been the best.
“We must move on the so-called high earners and replace them with better signings.”
Fan Steve Cowens, 45, from Mosborough, added: “There have been many mistakes at boardroom level, from hiring Bryan Robson to sacking Kevin Blackwell after three games at the start of this season. It’s just been one fiasco after another.”