United determined to avoid the same old end-of-season story

Chris Morgan and David Unsworth
Chris Morgan and David Unsworth
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Different team, different opponents, different challenges and scenarios.

So why is the narrative surrounding Sheffield United’s latest attempt to plot a course through the play-offs remain exactly the same?

The South Yorkshire club, who will face Yeovil Town in the semi-finals following Saturday’s stalemate with Preston North End, might be serial offenders in the end-of-season knockouts.

But, as they attempt to make it seventh time lucky, it is far from set in stone that, should they progress beyond Gary Johnson’s side, Chris Morgan’s charges are destined for capital punishment once again.

Sweeping away the air of negativity which began drifting across the terraces the very instant automatic promotion became a mathematical impossibility must be United’s top priority before this week’s first leg at Bramall Lane.

“We’ve got a great opportunity to go up and it’s an opportunity we plan to take,” Morgan said. “I know what ability these lads have got. I know they are capable of going out there and doing the job.”

Unlike the guidelines governing a manager’s behaviour in the technical area or directive which states matches must not finish until their Mancunian namesakes have scored, there is nothing in the law book to state that United must fall at the final hurdle.

Admittedly, though, it has felt like that at times.

Not least during last term’s League One showpiece at Wembley when they spurned several golden opportunities against Huddersfield Town before eventually bowing out on penalties.

But 13 members of the 18-strong squad which entertained Preston two days ago were either not selected or still plying their trade elsewhere when Steve Simonsen’s spot-kick flew agonisingly over the crossbar.

With Morgan appointed earlier this month, a new face is also at the helm.

“This is all about the here and now,” he continued. “It could come down to character and who holds there nerve. The boys in that dressing room have got plenty of both.”

United’s form does not exactly inspire confidence. They have averaged 0.88 points per game from their past eight. The momentum Morgan wanted his charges to gather ahead of Friday’s visit of Yeovil might not have materialised. Then again, Huddersfield, who failed to win five of their final eight fixtures of the regular season were hardly cruising in fifth gear 12 months ago.

Yeovil, meanwhile, have taken 14 points from a possible 24.

But they are now, perhaps for the first time since August, about to encounter almost intolerable levels of expectation and pressure.

United have shouldered the burden all year.

Footballers are bound to ease back on the accelerator approaching contests of such magnitude.

It is far from ideal but completely understandable.

Likewise the individual errors which have crept into a usually well-drilled defence of late.

Morgan, together with his assistant, David Unsworth, hope the prize at stake brings fresh focus to tired minds.

After all, with the previous two meetings between United and Yeovil producing a victory apiece, small details are going to be of paramount importance here.

Keeping a clean sheet against North End suggests that focus has returned.