Sheffield United: Blade Lee Evans bounces back from Oakwell embarrassment to win 'cup final' against Middlesbrough
A week can be a long time in football but for Sheffield United's Welsh international Lee Evans, two games in just four days perfectly encapsulated the ups and downs of life in the Championship.
Dragged off before half-time on Saturday after making a below-par start to United’s defeat at Oakwell - although, in mitigation, he was far from the only player to do so - Evans issued a timely reminder of the qualities he can offer the Blades’ play-off push with two stunning goals on Tuesday, in a morale-boosting 2-1 victory over top-six rivals Middlesbrough at Bramall Lane.
Despite being only 23 years of age, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers man is experienced enough to have experienced peaks and troughs in his embryonic career to date, but still allowed himself a wry smile as he was reminded about his 39th-minute substitution at Oakwell as he left the Bramall Lane media suite.
But, after moving to within three points of sixth-placed Millwall ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Neil Harris’ Lions at Bramall Lane, Evans was keen to look forward, rather than back.
“It was unbelievable,” he said of the feeling of scoring his two goals, a second-minute side-footed volley into the top corner and a more forcefully-struck effort into the bottom after good work from David Brooks.
“They were, of course, my first goals for United and it was a great time to get them. The win sets us up perfectly now for Saturday.
“It was a must-win game for us and although people have said there’s no pressure on us to make the play-offs, there is and it comes from within.
“We weren’t maybe expected to challenge for the top six at the start of the season but there’s a feeling within the squad that we should do all we can to get there, starting on Saturday.
“Millwall are flying, but we’ve got a win under our belts now and the atmosphere at Bramall Lane will be electric, so we’re all looking for it.”
United remained ninth after beating Tony Pulis’ Boro, who brought club-record Â£15m signing Britt Assombalonga off the bench at half-time at Bramall Lane, but can go level on points with Millwall with a victory on Saturday.
“I’m sure people will have looked at the result against Barnsley [a 3-2 defeat] and thought ‘that’s them done now’, but we’re still in with a chance. We know we probably have to win every game now to get a chance, and they’re all cup finals really.
“We’ve won the first one... and we know that, if we win as many as possible from the four we have left, then we’ll be there or thereabouts.”
Boss Chris Wilder, meanwhile, has challenged his side to regain some of their early-season composure after another edgy finish to a game at Bramall Lane. After conceding a last-minute equaliser to Cardiff in their last outing at Bramall Lane, Blades fans were fearing a repeat when Daniel Ayala pulled a goal back for Boro just minutes into the second half.
“Credit to the opposition, but I thought we contributed to our own downfall in the second half with the goal we conceded. We got tight and a little edgy,” Wilder said.
“We have to learn from that. We need to be a bit more composed and calm when games become tight. They had nothing to lose and went for it.”