IT doesn’t boast the same profile as El Clasico or ferocity of the Old Firm but quite a rivalry is developing between these two teams.
And familiarity bred contempt at Bramall Lane on Saturday as Sheffield United, locking horns with Stevenage for the fifth time in only 12 months, swatted the visitors aside with almost insolent ease.
Bizarrely, given their position towards the top of the League One table, Danny Wilson’s side have been castigated in recent weeks for adopting an overly cautious approach to the task of trying to deliver promotion.
Here though, against the club they faced in last season’s play-off semi-finals, United decided attack was the best form of defence and were rewarded with the type of result which Shaun Miller claimed will send shockwaves rippling through the rest of the division.
“It makes a statement that we are still a side to be reckoned with,” said Miller, whose inclusion in a three-pronged attack proved an inspired move. “We’d spoke in the week about expressing ourselves more and that’s what we were told to go out there and do.”
Miller, who marked his first league start since a summer move from Crewe Alexandra with two goals, was the driving force behind the win which saw United reclaim second place and appears almost certain to feature against his former club tomorrow.
Ryan Flynn, though, was the architect, with Wilson and Gary Smith, the Stevenage manager, acknowledging that the quality of his delivery was instrumental in United’s success.
Three of their four goals were fashioned by the Scottish winger’s boot.
Miller’s failure to figure more prominently in Wilson’s plans has been a source of confusion among some sections of the home support, especially given his ability to dovetail with fellow striker Chris Porter who also featured on the scoresheet.
The United manager hinted afterwards that “only minor” adjustments were required before he was considered for regular selection - “It‘s not just goals but also the little things the crowd wants to see like energy and pressing hard on opponents”- and Miller shed even further light.
“I probably wasn’t quite as fit when I first came in as the gaffer would have liked me to be,” he said. “But I’ve worked hard on improving that and hopefully there are going to be more goals to come.
“Ports and I have developed a really good understanding because we’ve played together quite a bit in the cups and also for the under-21’s. That’s been really beneficial.
“I’m not the tallest myself and so, against the big guys, I like to work just off Ports and use the space there.”
“Ryan, I thought, was absolutely fantastic,” Miller added. “The type of ball that he can put into the box is absolutely perfect for strikers.”
Stevenage, two years after climbing out of the Conference, harbour Championship ambitions themselves and travelled north intent on avenging May’s defeat in the race for Wembley.
Only goal difference separated United and Stevenage ahead of kick-off.
Given the financial constraints and churn in personnel which have characterised their reigns, both Wilson and Smith have performed wonders to ensure their respective clubs have remained in top-two contention although the latter’s determination to relax the tactical controls imposed by his predecessor, Graham Westley, exposed a soft underbelly which United were happy to exploit.
Captain Mark Roberts briefly gave Stevenage hope when he cancelled out Neill Collins’ opener but Smith said: “It’s a very unpleasant feeling. I thought when we got back into it we would show more desire but all afternoon we failed to deal with the balls into our box. Our challenge, when we are not playing well, is to be more difficult to beat. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. It’s very important the characters in our team now rise to the surface.”
Miller restored United’s advantage soon after the interval with a goal which Smith described as “indicative” of Stevenage’s failings and the hosts’ strengths.
Nick Blackman, deployed in a wide rather than central role, found Flynn lurking on the opposite flank and his centre was duly bundled home.
Miller pounced again following another Flynn centre after Blackman had earlier seen an effort tipped expertly over the crossbar by Steve Arnold before Porter applied the coup de grace, Again Flynn was the provider.
“It was fantastic to really finish a team off like that,” Miller said. “I think the fans have wanted to see us banging some goals in and I thought some of our creative play was great.”