Steve Simonsen, the Sheffield United goalkeeper, believes his colleagues have scored an important psychological victory in their battle for play-off supremacy over Stevenage.
United enter tonight’s League One semi-final second leg knowing a win of any description will see them book a date at Wembley later this month against either Huddersfield Town or MK Dons.
Despite failing to score in the first leg, Simonsen, insisted United’s ability to subdue one of the division’s most confrontational teams will not have gone unnoticed by their promotion rivals.
“Stevenage will see that as a missed opportunity,” he said. “They really wanted to get amongst us and put us under pressure.
“I heard a lot of things being said in the exchanges beforehand. That we couldn’t cope with that type of thing.
“It’s not our game but we showed that we can and that’s a really good sign.
“We have passed that test. Hopefully, at home, we can play more of the football we are accustomed to.”
Although attention has focused on United’s attack in recent weeks, much of the work going on behind the scenes ahead of Friday’s goalless draw at The Lamex Stadium concentrated on keeping a first clean sheet since March.
Simonsen said: “It was a huge positive. You want to keep a clean sheet and build a basis from that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score. But if we had been offered a clean sheet before the game we would have took it with both hands.”
“These type of games are always tight, tense affairs and this was no different,” Simonsen added.
“Another clean sheet will get us closer to where we want to be.”
United forged a reputation as being one of the most miserly rearguards in the competition before being breached eight times in five games en route to last week’s meeting with Gary Smith’s side.
Revealing better communication and a back to basics approach were the secrets of their success in Hertfordshire, Simonsen acknowledged more of the same will be required when at Bramall Lane tonight.
“We worked on keeping the line together,” he said. “We kept it solid.
“Stevenage don’t look to get down the sides. We ended up making them play football in and around their own half.
“They said they were going to bully us and didn’t think we could cope but we showed we can cope with that. Its not our style of play but when you come up against you have to deal with it.”
Nevertheless, despite seeing a thoroughly professional if not expansive display frustrate Stevenage’s ambitions, United received a timely reminder of the quality their opponents possess when Simonsen was forced to tip Craig Reid’s shot onto the crossbar just before the interval.
“Hopefully that save will turn out to be important,” said Simonsen. “I admitted beforehand that I’ve been happy with my own form of late even though a large part of that is down to the lads around me.
“I didn’t have too much to do in the first leg and hopefully that will be the same again now.”