AND so, after more than two decades, Sheffield United have relinquished their status as one of England’s elite 44 clubs.
A late equaliser from Danny Haynes denied Micky Adams’ side the win they required to retain any chance of survival but, ultimately, results elsewhere involving fellow strugglers Doncaster Rovers and Crystal Palace rendered the outcome here an irrelevance.
The final whistle provoked scenes of contrasting emotions at either end of the field.
United’s players, with shoulders hunched and tears rolling down cheeks, disconsolately acknowledged The Kop while, behind their backs, Barnsley’s travelling support rocked to a soundtrack of caustic wit and joyous celebration.
“The dressing room is devastated as you would expect,” Stephen Quinn, the United midfielder, admitted. “I’m devastated. It’s just so disappointing. Especially when you consider where we were not so long ago - developing nicely and knocking on the door of the Premiership.
“I’ve been here eight years. I came through the ranks and I’m just gutted; absolutely speechless.
“The fans were brilliant towards us and credit to them for that.
“We’ve just got to sit down and assess where we went wrong, why we’ve found ourselves in this situation.”
The reason behind United’s decline as a major Championship force will not be the only subject up for discussion when Adams meets Bramall Lane’s board of directors before Saturday’s dead-rubber at Swansea. With the manager warning that “our cloth will have to be cut accordingly” next season, the vast majority of United’s squad are facing an uncertain future. Quinn included.
“I’m not even thinking about that at the moment,” he said. “Will I stay? Hopefully, but I honestly don’t know what will happen.”
This match exposed not only the failings which have deposited United in League One just four years after sliding out of the top flight but also the problems Mark Robins must solve so Barnsley can progress.
Haynes’ first of a highly-charged afternoon came when teenage centre-half Harry Maguire, selected ahead of the experienced Neill Collins, slipped attempting to intercept Kieran Trippier’s pass before the visitors’ defence crumbled when allowing Matt Lowton and Lee Williamson to score.
“We started brightly and created one or two good chances,” Barnsley manager Robins, who watched former United trainee Jacob Mellis inexplicably blaze over the crossbar during the opening exchanges, said. “But then we did our best to throw it away.
“(Bobby) Hassell gave away a free-kick, got chastised by the referee and back into position but the man he was meant to be picking up scored.
“United were up for it. We knew they would be and they probably had the majority of possession.
“You have to feel for them. United gave everything. But we’ve only won three away from home all season and we’ve got to do better than that.”
United began nervously but improved following Haynes’ opener. Lowton, one of several youngsters Adams will be desperate to retain over the summer, dragged them level with a thunderous finish from Williamson’s set-piece before spooning over from 10 yards after showcasing a more delicate side to his game.
Williamson edged United in front when Luke Steele allowed his long-range effort to squirm across the line and although Steve Simonsen, the Barnsley goalkeeper’s counterpart, produced an astonishing save to deny Trippier he was powerless to prevent Haynes converting Matt Hill’s cross.
“We’ve let in too many sloppy goals all year,” admitted Quinn. “What happened about sums things up.
“But we’ve showed fighting spirit by battling back.
“We’ve also got some excellent kids coming through. People like Matt, who I thought was immense, and Harry who reminds me of a young Chris Morgan.
“So the future should be bright. Hopefully.”
CHED Evans, the Sheffield United striker, was rushed to hospital after suffering a suspected broken ankle during Saturday’s draw with Barnsley.
As Micky Adams’ side drowned their sorrows following relegation from the Championship, Evans underwent a series of tests after injuring himself during an accidental collision with visiting captain Jason Shackell.
United will be aware the outcome of those scans could hinder their plans to balance the books next season.
As one of Bramall Lane’s highest earners, Evans is likely to head the list of players United will look to off-load during what their manager predicts should be an “interesting” summer.
Reflecting on his team’s efforts this term, Adams said: “The lads gave their all. They’re a hard-working, honest group but we just haven’t been good enough. I didn’t say much to them in the dressing room. I don’t have to because they know the implications of relegation.”
Adams was referring to the anticipated fire-sale of big names required to reduce a wage bill which, barring major investment, is unsustainable in League One.
Darius Henderson is known to have already attracted interest from elsewhere while Nick Montgomery is being monitored by Leeds. Fellow midfielder Stephen Quinn - who, like Adams, paid tribute to United’s fans for their defiant show of support after the final whistle - could also be destined to depart.
Having inherited a series of problems after taking charge before the New Year’s Day trip to Burnley, Adams’ record at the helm reads: W4 D5 L14.Those figures meant he inevitably faced questions about his own future after United, who trail 21st-placed Doncaster Rovers by six points ahead of this weekend’s final game at Swansea, remained 22nd in the table.
“I’m not Mystic Meg but do I want to stay? Absolutely,” Adams said. “I want to be the manager that brings this club, this great club, back up next season.”
They gave their all. They always have as far as I’m concerned. They’re a genuine, hard-working, honest group. But we’ve just not been good enough. We’ve got to share collective responsibility and I’ll take mine. I’m devastated but I won’t hide.
Mark Robins: You’ve got to feel for Sheffield United and their manager, Micky Adams. They gave everything. We’ll lose this derby next season which, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t a good thing. You look forward to games against local opposition.