AFTER 69 hours and 46 games, the fates of Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town will now be decided during 90 minutes of nerve-shredding action.
The war of attrition has become a battle of wits.
Neill Collins, who is expected to anchor United’s defence during next weekend’s League One play-off final with Simon Grayson’s side, said: “I don’t think you can have a favourite on occasions like this.
“I’ve never appeared at Wembley but it’s obviously a great place to win and not a good place to lose. We’ve got a great opportunity to go there, play our football and see where it takes us.
“Ideally it would have been better to get promoted automatically but you have to take a second opportunity if it’s handed to you and it has been. It’s all about who performs on the day.”
The bookies are inclined to agree, with one leading firm last night quoting the Yorkshire rivals at 6/4 each with 21/10 the draw.
On paper, having finished one place and nine points ahead of their opponents in the table, United appear the stronger of the two. But, as the old saying goes, football is actually played on grass. Events of the past nine months will count for nothing when the action begins in eight days.
United reached the divisional showpiece by beating a Stevenage team whose 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane nearly three weeks ago effectively ended their hopes of finishing second behind champions Charlton Athletic.
Monday evening’s semi-final victory over the visitors from Hertfordshire marked the end of a disappointing run of two draws and one defeat.
However, Collins dismissed suggestions United should enter their meeting with opponents who have won three of their previous five with trepidation.
Look beyond the statistics, the former Scotland under-21 international insisted, and there is no cause for concern.
“There was not an awful lot wrong with our performance at home to Stevenage in the league,” Collins said.
“It was just one of those days when two fortuitous goals went in against us and, unlike Manchester City who won the title in the last minute, we just couldn’t get the ball to drop. Against Exeter, on the final fay, I thought we played really well with 10 men and should actually have won it.
“The biggest disappointment for me was when we lost at MK Dons. but everyone has a bad game in a season and we’d been on a great run.”
The evidence does, though, suggest a fascinating fixture is in prospect. United averaged two goals per game in regular competition with 1.1 conceded. Town, by contrast, returned figures of 1.7 and 1.02.
“We’ve got a lot of experience and can hopefully put that to good use,” Collins said.