Blades play-off winners? You’d better believe it!

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IN view of what happened last Saturday (not to mention previously), it is of no consolation to Blades followers whatsoever to put a particular record straight.

It’s the one that says Sheffield United have never won a play-off. Well, they have.

But you have to go back a very long way to the end of United’s first season in the Football League - April 1893.

They didn’t actually call it a play-off but it was because it ended with United gaining promotion.

It was called a Test match.

United finished second in Division Two and so played Accrington (not the same club that is now Stanley) who were up in Division One to see who would be in the top flight of English football the following season.

It was played in Nottingham, United were well supported and those Blades fans of the club’s very earliest days returned happily back home to Sheffield having seen their team win 1-0.

The value of that winning, promotion-clinching goal (from one Jack Drummond) was said to be of great importance to a club whose debts were mounting even then.

But how close they may have come to not being promoted via the ‘play-off’ is hinted at in Denis Clarebrough’s excellent history of United’s first 100 years.

It says United were happy enough to finish second because it meant avoiding Newton Heath in the ‘play-off’. They were regarded as stronger than Accrington.

Newton Heath did win their own Test match play-off against the champions of United’s division, Small Heath (now Birmingham City) and so stayed where they were, which was in the top flight.

And Newton Heath certainly were to go on to bigger and better things eventually, They became Manchester United.

There were probably exceptions across the other side of the city but you could only feel sorry for whoever was going to be responsible for the match-losing penalty at Wembley last Saturday.

In a strange way, perhaps Steve Simonsen was the ‘best’ man to have to carry that particular can.

Not that you wish it on anyone at all, of course, and it has to be something which lives with that player for the rest of their days.

But whilst the moment will always haunt the Blades goalkeeper, he can balance it off by the fact that but for him it wouldn’t have got to penalties let alone to 22 of them.

That much has been acknowledged.

His saves in the second half enabled United to get to extra-time. He did as much as anyone, not least with the save from Alan Lee, to ensure it even got to penalties.

When he saved two of the first three, he was on course to be the hero. And, when Huddersfield made it ‘taken three, missed three’, even the most pessimistic Blades follower might just have reckoned that they were about to do it. Even they couldn’t mess it up from there surely!

For 13 consecutive penalties to be scored, and with the pressure mounting each time, was incredible. So, yes, I did feel sorry for Simonsen. And for the Blades in general, for Danny Wilson, his players after the season they’ve had and the football they’ve played. They deserved to go up.

I think we all know what cost them. And we’re not talking Simonsen’s penalty!

Incidentally, Huddersfield ended up wearing ‘Town going up’ t-shirts.

The League would have had some red United ones. What happens to them?