SHEFFIELD UNITED: Why history counts for nothing to class of 2012

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THROWN it away. No chance. Not a hope in hell.

Just some of the words which have reverberated around Bramall Lane after it became apparent that, rather than securing automatic promotion back to the Championship, Sheffield United would have to try and take the long route instead.

True, the South Yorkshire club’s record in play-off competition makes for pretty miserable reading.

But despite failing to win any of their five previous forays into perhaps English football’s most tortuous invention, I’ll take this opportunity to add a few phrases of my own into the terrace lexicon.

Complete and utter tosh. Defeatist nonsense. Meaningless drivel. Self-indulgent tripe.

Were United travelling to Stevenage with exactly the same team and management structure which failed to overcome the likes of Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley then those already writing off Danny Wilson’s side would probably not be wide of the mark.

The notion there is a flaw in United’s psychological make-up might not be so ridiculous after all.

But, to the best of my knowledge, folk such as John Curtis, Lee Hendrie and Simon Tracey won’t be travelling to the Lamex Stadium for tonight’s semi-final first leg.

Nor will they be involved in the return leg 72 hours later or, it must be hoped, beyond.

There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

What happened even three years ago will have no bearing on what is to come over the next few days.

Which brings me to another important and pertinent issue.

Despite the indisputable fact that United’s class of 2012 will win or lose against Stevenage and possibly Huddersfield Town or MK Dons on their own merits alone, they are constantly being reminded they must buck the trend of history to join Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic in the second tier next term.

Since 2005, three of the teams finishing third in what is now League One have ultimately prevailed compared to one, two and one of those finishing fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.

That, depending on whether you are a glass half full or empty type of girl or guy, is a pretty healthy or horrible 43 per cent.

But does the present schedule reward the highest-placed entrant enough?

Or should football introduce a rugby league style format which, despite being especially convoluted, does weigh the race for a Grand Final ring heavily in the minor Premiership holders’ favour.

The ‘Club Call’ system - whereby the highest ranked club after the first round of competition are allowed to choose their opponents - has been a controversial addition.

But those teams who have performed best throughout the regular campaign are afforded a second chance should they lose a game due to what are effectively ‘Qualifying’ and ‘Elimination’ pools.

United mustered 17 more points than Stevenage this season.

Certainly UEFA would not tolerate such a lottery when it comes to deciding Champions League entrants.