Three matches. Two points. No goals.
In the last two and a half weeks, Sheffield United have played and matched, for long periods, three of the top five sides in League One.
Ultimately, though, Nigel Clough’s troops failed to break down Preston, Wolves and Brentford’s defences. Their inability to beat the teams competing in the upper echelons of the division throughout the 2013/14 campaign may, in the final analysis, cost them a play-off berth.
Clough wished he had had the luxury of fielding a full-strength side in their controversial goalless with Brentford in midweek. Harry Maguire served the second of his two-match ban, Jose Baxter and Stefan Scougall were both carrying minor knocks and deemed only fit enough for the substitutes bench while injuries kept Matt Hill and Bob Harris out of action.
Clough conceded: “I think we are a little bit behind the top two. It would be nice to see us when we can get our full side out as we were without four or five the other night.
“We had Ben Davies battling away at right-back and I think John Brayford has been the best player on the pitch for two games running at centre-back.”
The United manager heaped praise on referee Eddie Ilderton following his decision to change his mind about sending off Kieron Freeman and awarding a penalty against Brentford. Ilderton inexplicably pointed to the spot and gave Freeman his marching orders after ruling the on-loan Derby County defender fouled Marcello Trotta in the first half, although he clearly won the ball.
But after consulting with his linesman, Ilderton overturned both decisions and gave a drop ball.
He said: “He got it wrong but he put it right, he has to be commended for putting it right, it takes a lot of courage to do that.
“We wish he hadn’t got it that wrong in the first place, but he waited in the tunnel and talked to the lads at half time and said he had a bad angle, so that is absolutely fine, everyone got on with the game. But it was very, very brave and the correct thing to do.
“If he’d have just given himself 30 seconds but as long as you get the right decision in the end, that’s the main thing.
“To be fair even their players were a bit embarrassed. If it had happened against us we would have wanted the same thing.”
Although Brentford moved five points clear of third-placed Leyton Orient in the race for automatic promotion, boss Mark Warbuton was perplexed by Ilderton’s decision to perform a U-turn over the spot-kick.
“I have never seen anything like that in my life before,” he said.
“The obvious thing to do is just take your time and go over and speak to your linesman and then make your decision.
“But he has brandished the red card and given the penalty and all of a sudden we end up with a drop ball. It was absolutely bizarre, I have never seen anything like it before.”
Clough described the draw as a “brilliant” spectacle and was delighted to record a clean sheet.
Clough said: “It was a cracking game. As good as you will see. I don’t know how it finished 0-0.”
Despite the result, Clough is refusing to give up on a top-six finish.
“It might be a bit beyond us but we will not give it up just yet,” he added.
*National Express has teamed up with The Star to offer three lucky readers the chance to watch United play Hull City in the FA Cup semi-final. The UK’s largest coach operator are giving away three pairs of tickets to see the tie on Sunday April 13.
National Express the Official Coach Supplier to Wembley Stadium, are running services direct to the iconic ground from Sheffield. Tickets cost £30 return. To book return travel, visit www.nationalexpress.comwww.nationalexpress.com or ring call 08717 818 181.
For your chance to win, send an email to email@example.com with BLADES in the subject field along with your contact details. Only one entry per person. Deadline for entries is Monday, April 7 at 10am.
Terms and conditions: Texts cost £1.50 plus your standard network rate. By entering, you are indicating that you are happy to receive offers from Johnston Press PLC. By SMS. Please add MOINFO at the end of your message if you do not wish to receive these. Multiple entries accepted. Helpline: 0114 2521298. Please note entries received after the stated closing deadline will not be valid but you still may be charged. Winner will be notified by phone on the telephone number used to enter. UK entrants, 18 and over only. Bill payers permission must be obtained before entering. This is a Johnston Press Group competition. NO CASH ALTERNATIVE. For full t&c’s got to www.johnstonpress.co.uk/competitions.