DANNY Wilson, the Sheffield United manager, is confident his team have the strength of character required to win their battle of wills with Stevenage.
United travel to Hertfordshire this evening for the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final with Gary Smith’s side determined to make a statement after failing to secure automatic promotion at Exeter City last weekend.
Dismissing concerns that his squad’s confidence has been dented by its failure to clinch the runners-up berth behind Charlton Athletic, Wilson said: “Now it’s all about who holds their nerve best.
“The result rather than the performance.
“We’ve had such a good season and accumulated so many points that I’ve not had to pick the lads up.
“Stevenage are tough opponents but I’d like to think they’ll say the same about us.
“Anyone who thinks someone is going to run away with this is showing a lack of understanding though.
“It’s going to be nip and tuck between two teams going hell for leather.”
A proud football man, Wilson cherishes the respect he commands among his fellow managers. Earlier this week Smith became the latest to express words of sympathy for the former Northern Ireland international who, having fashioned the most explosive team in English football, has subsequently seen it ravaged by events beyond his control. Nevertheless, despite his reputation for propriety, Wilson craves progress not platitudes.
“I do think we’ve been unlucky with injuries and the like of late but we’ve still got very good players,” he said.
“Some haven’t had the opportunities but what a great time to get one now.
“You just never know who is going to be the hero.
“It could be anyone in any position.”
With Ched Evans, James Beattie and Will Hoskins no longer at United’s disposal, it has been suggested that sharpening the Blades’ cutting edge despite their diminishing resources will have been Wilson’s priority after returning home from Devon.
However, with United having netted twice in each of their last two outings yet failed to win either, defensive matters are likely to have demanded most of his time at Shirecliffe this week.
United conceded an average of 1.04 goals away from home en route to third in the table this term.
Yet they travel to the Lamex Stadium, where Stevenage have scored an average of 1.56, knowing they could be denied the chance to compete in the Championship by opponents who amassed 17 fewer points and finished sixth.
Nevertheless, Wilson said: “Are the play-offs fair? Of course they are.
“If we were in their position then we’d think they were fantastic so we’re not going to be hypocritical now.
“Everyone keeps suggesting they favour those who come sixth but we know how well we can play.”
“If we believe we are better, through merit, then there’s nothing wrong with that,” Wilson added.
United host the second leg on Monday with the victors set to face either MK Dons or Huddersfield Town at Wembley.
Wilson, acknowledging the national stadium’s iconic arch will cast a shadow over events 30 miles away on Broadhall Way, said: “Like it or not, it’s going to be at the back of people’s minds.
“Both them and us because they’re under pressure to perform too, without question.
“But we’ve got the experience and the know-how to appreciate what comes first.”
One to watch
Gary Smith has cited Patrick Agyemang as a possible match-winner tonight but John Mousinho, who started last month’s meeting between these two sides on the bench, has play-off pedigree after scoring the winning goal during Stevenage’s League Two play-off final victory over Torquay United 12 months ago.
Sheffield United travel to Hertfordshire searching for their first victory over Stevenage. Tonight’s hosts triumphed 2-1 at the Lamex Stadium earlier this season before drawing 2-2 at Bramall Lane nearly a fortnight ago.