SHEFFIELD UNITED are favourites to go through to Wembley after drawing 0-0 at Stevenage tonight in the League One play off semi final first leg.
It was a nervous, below-par spectacle, for the most part.
But Danny Wilson’s men are now in the box seat to go through to the final against either Milton Keynes or Huddersfield.
They had to survive one scare when The Boro hit the bar, in the first half.
But after the interval they pretty much controlled matters.
Peter Rinkcavage, former Frickley and Stocksbridge non league manager summed it up when he tweeted: “Bramall Lane on Monday is where all will be decided. Both teams need to up their game though if they want to progress... It will be a very nervous ‘Down Town’ Bramall Lane on Monday.”
The game got off to a lukewarm start, considering so much was at stake.
Scott Laird banged a shot hopelessly wide of Steve Simonsen’s goal in the second minute as both teams felt each other out during the rather messy, early exchanges on this tight, bumpy Hertfordshire ground.
The home side concentrated a lot of their effort on attacking down the left flank, while United, watched in the stand and United end by Blades’ lovers, former goalie Paddy Kenny, now of QPR, and Kyle Walker of Spurs and England, respectively, struggled to get an early rhythm.
Chances were few and far between and it was 20 minutes before midfielder Michael Bostwick made a botch of a shot on United’s goal.
Ryan Flynn was lively down their left and Stephen Quinn busy in the middle, but United didn’t really look like creating a reasonable chance.
And when the energetic Luke Freeman blasted another half-chance miles over, it summed up a poor first half hour - although United had comfortably achieved their objective of not giving up chances.
On 41 minutes, Stevenage striker Craig Reid’s swirling left footer hit the centre of United’s bar in the first real chance of the game.
The game, belatedly, was getting lively and Bostwick’s alarming miscue forced the home goalie to punch the ball over the bar followed by Kevin McDonald screwing just wide.
Half time: Stevenage 0 Sheffield United 0
United tested goalie Chris Day with an inswinging cross which Flynn almost profited from, after the re-start.
Laird and Matthew Lowton then had a brief flare-up after the United man seemed to shove his Stevenage rival off the pitch.
Williamson then appealed angrily for a penalty after more physical challenge, but referee Bates was having none of it.
But the plus-point was that United were now imposing themselves on the game more and forced a couple of corners.
And Williamson had a shot on target on 62 minutes, too, which had been a rarity so far.
Flynn went down in a heap after a tackle on 67 minutes, which interrupted United’s flow.
But Quinn, United’s best player, suddenly opened up the Stevenage defence with a superb and it was unfortunate the chance drifted away.
The Boro felt aggrieved they could not finish off a half chance from a corner on 72 minutes ,but the play switched to the other end and a deflection almost sneaked past Day.
And Bostwick had to clear a Blades header off the line in time added on.
Day, Wilson, Laird, Ashton, Reid, Byrom, Roberts, Freeman, Bostwick, Agyemang, Lascelles.
Subs: Julian, Myrie-Williams, Beardsley, Mousinho, Shroot.
Simonsen, Lowton, Doyle, Flynn, Williamson, Collins, Maguire, Porter, McDonald, Quinn, Hill.
Subs: Ertl, Taylor, Cresswell, Howard, O’Halloran.
Read James Shield’s analysis in The Star on Saturday.