ONE down. 292 days to go, writes James Shield.
Twenty four hours ago, when Sheffield United’s first team squad reported for pre-season training at Shirecliffe, it marked the first step of a near-300-day journey they hope will see them reach the promised land of the Championship.
And, according to Danny Wilson, the start of the healing process too.
Defeat in last term’s League One play-off final has, by the United manager’s own admission, left deep psychological scars.
But, by the time they end the 2012/13 campaign with a home fixture against Preston North End on April 27, Wilson believes his charges possess the strength of character required to ensure Bramall Lane is in celebratory rather than bewildered mood.
“They’re a tough bunch,” he said.
everyone was gutted by what happened and it hurts an awful lot.
“But there comes a time when you have to draw a line and move on rather than feel sorry for yourself.
“That gets you absolutely nowhere.”
Three months ago United seemed destined to secure a top two finish before a circumstances conspired to wreck their dreams of automatic promotion.
The manner of their subsequent conquest by Huddersfield Town at Wembley – 8-7 on penalties - only served to make the disappointment even tougher to bear.
Midfielder Kevin McDonald, who missed the divisional showpiece with a hamstring complaint, is still locked in negotiations about a new contract.
United’s hierarchy were last night understood to be hopeful of securing an agreement with McDonald and his representative but, as one source reminded: “There are absolutely no guarantees.”
“It’s always impossible to predict how these situations pan out but there are proper negotiations going on so we’ll see,” they said last night.
Lee Williamson, who also became a free agent following the meeting with Town, is known to interest several clubs including Nottingham Forest and Burnley.
Matthew Lowton was a notable absentee having completed what he later described as a “dream” move to Aston Villa last week.
The full-back, who made 89 appearances for United after progressing through the ranks, agreed terms with Paul Lambert’s side on Thursday evening.
But The Star understands his transfer was not processed until Friday due to negotiations about a sell-on clause being inserted into the deal.
Villa are also believed to have offered United the pick of some of their own young players - albeit on loan - in exchange.
United, who travel to Malta for a week long training camp later this month, begin their pre-season fixture schedule at Ilkeston Town on Wednesday, July 18.
DID YOU KNOW? Kevin McDonald once snubbed a move to Celtic. The midfielder was still a teenager when he declared it was better to “stay with” Dundee rather than join the SPL champions.