FURY and frustration were etched across Danny Wilson’s face when the referee called time on Saturday’s League One fixture at Stevenage.
His Sheffield United team had travelled to Hertfordshire bristling with determination and good intentions against opponents whose confrontational approach had already accounted for fellow contenders Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic in recent weeks.
An industrious performance from the visitors looked set to earn them a draw until another lapse in concentration saw them suffer the same fate as Chris Powell’s side and their arch-rivals from Hillsborough.
But having emerged from a frank post-match inquest, Wilson was back to his usual defiant self as he chewed the fat with the press on Broadhall Way’s muddy touchline. Yes, he admitted, United had once again been the architects of their own downfall. But defensive frailties would not persuade him to dilute the passing principles to which he subscribes.
“If that’s what people want to watch then fine,” Wilson, referring to Stevenage’s tactics, said. “It might suit them but I don’t think it would suit us.
“I’m not judging anybody, far from it, but I think we’ve got the people here to do something different.”
Tonight’s televised JP Trophy Northern Area quarter-final tie with Bradford City offers a chance of redemption for a United side which, despite being fifth in the table, saw both its ability and application called in to question by angry fans following the setback in Stevenage.
Wilson, with good reason, rails at suggestions his players lack the wherewithal required to progress this season.
must look to move forward without on-loan duo Matt Phillips and Billy Clarke who, it was yesterday confirmed, are set to re-join Blackpool following this evening’s encounter.
Having claimed a combined total of six goals and five assists, both will be “difficult to replace”, said Wilson, but he insisted the likes of Ryan Flynn and Erik Tonne are capable of filling the void.
“We’ve got players here who can bring different things to the table - people like Ryan who has got great technical ability and a great deal to offer,” he said.
“He was unfortunate because Matty arrived as, at that point in time, we needed pace. But I think the league has settled down a bit now and we know what is required to do well in it.
“The ideal situation is that people like him and Erik use this opportunity to make it impossible for me to leave them out. I’d always much rather go with players who are contracted to this club.”
With keeper Steve Simonsen impressing on his return to action at Stevenage, Wilson must decide whether to include the former England under-21 international against City or persist with his policy of using teenager George Long in knockout competition.
Teams and refs
United (possible): Long, Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Jean-Francois, Doyle, McDonald, Phillips, Quinn, Clarke, Evans (4-4-2).
Bradford (possible): McLaughlin, O’Brien, Oliver, Moore, Seip, Flynn, Jones, Bryan, Hannah, Hanson, Fagan (4-4-2).
Mark Haywood. Tonight’s match will be the first time the official has taken charge of a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie this season. Haywood has issued 43 yellow cards in his last 16 games but has not sent off a player off since April.
One to watch
With former United winger Kyel Reid suspended, the home crowd will be interested to see how another old boy - Marcel Seip - performs should he get the nod from Phil Parkinson. Craig Fagan, who joined from Hull earlier this year, should pose a threat.
United have won all of their previous five encounters with City, scoring 14 goals and conceding only two. The visitors last tasted success at Bramall Lane in April 1988 when they triumphed 2-1.