SHEFFIELD UNITED: The stage is set for the crowning of King James

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FINAL match of the season or precursor to 270 minutes of play-off action to come?

That, irrespective of what happens at St James’ Park and Hillsborough tomorrow, has been the beauty of this League One season.

It’s proven completely impossible to predict.

Enthralling and excruciating in equal measure.

For Sheffield United, of course, the past fortnight has been the latter as, robbed of Ched Evans’ services on the eve of last month’s visit to MK Dons, Danny Wilson’s players surrendered second place to Sheffield Wednesday after drawing with Stevenage six days ago.

Wilson wants points not plaudits. Success rather than sympathy.

Nevertheless, it is difficult not to feel sorry for the former Northern Ireland international who, having constructed a team which seemed destined to blaze a trail back into the Championship, has seen it weakened, through no fault of his own, by a well-documented chain of events off the pitch.

Labelling United as one-player ponies is a bit like saying Barcelona aren’t quite as brilliant without Lionel Messi. That Real Madrid are a little bit less remarkable without Ronaldo.

Evans, who is appealing his conviction for rape, has undoubtedly been a huge loss.

Not just because he scored 35 goals in 42 appearances since returning from injury in September.

His direct running off the ball and presence also created plenty of space for others.

But those who argue Wilson and his staff should have prepared for such an eventuality by blooding the likes of Chris Porter and Michael O’Halloran miss a crucial point. They couldn’t.

Such was the devastating power of the Evans/Cresswell partnership it would have been irresponsible to break it up.

Against Stevenage, however, there were signs that another could emerge.

United were 2-0 down and seemingly destined for defeat, then the appearance of Cresswell and James Beattie off the bench saw the match swing back decisively in United’s favour.

True, Wilson’s men could not quite secure the win they craved.

But, on reflection, if the spirit they demonstrated to come so close can be reproduced against Paul Tisdale’s side and - worst-case scenario - beyond then there is every reason to believe they will be competing in the Championship next term.

United’s old attacking warhorses might not be blessed with pace.

But they are brimming with know-how and possess the self-belief required to help the South Yorkshire club regain its swagger.

Beattie, the folk hero of Bramall Lane, scoring the goal which lifts United back above Wednesday in the table or propels them to a dramatic victory at Wembley?

Now, from a United perspective at least, that would be a fitting epitaph to what has already been an unforgettable campaign.

And, on the evidence of the past 10 months, who would bet against it?