THEY threatened to blaze a trail through the division by producing attractive football and scoring a flurry of goals.
But, speaking on the eve of tonight’s League One play-off semi-final second leg with Stevenage, Danny Wilson admitted that Sheffield United are prepared to sacrifice some of their principles in an effort to reach the divisional showpiece at Wembley later this month.
“It’s all about the result,” he said.
“However you get it I’m not too concerned.
“I don’t think anyone ever remembers how pretty you are if you win 1-0.
“The most important thing is to go through.
“We’ll work it out and grind it out if that’s what we have to do.”
Wilson has spent the past 12 months impressing the purists by delivering results in eye-catching fashion.
But, at The Lamex Stadium three days ago, the former Northern Ireland international demonstrated he is a pragmatist too.
Indeed, Wilson seemed to derive as much pleasure from the clean sheet United kept against Gary Smith’s side as he did the intricate moves which forged opportunities for Lee Williamson, Kevin McDonald and a resurgent Chris Porter during the closing stages of a combative if not captivating contest.
“I think that’s the first one we’ve had in a quite a long while,” he said. “We’ve not kept that many (2) since getting one at Huddersfield in February.
“People say we can’t score goals but we must be doing if we’ve not kept one and yet won a lot of games in that time.”
United used Friday’s outing against opponents who finished three places and 17 points behind them in the final table to unveil a new formation which saw striker Porter plough a lone furrow up front and Stephen Quinn, usually deployed on the flanks, operating the in the hole.
Wilson explained: “It was a very solid display and we had a very good shape about ourselves.
“The lads who came in did a great job.
“We’ve done the work down there and we’ve got to take that back to Bramall Lane.
“We always feel we’ve got a goal in our locker but we had to proceed with caution as well because the last time we played we got hit on the counter attack.”
“Lots of reasons why we did it,” Wilson added.
“Quinny is such a fantastic little player and because he’s got such a great touch he can go into those little pockets where centre-halves don’t like to go. Then it depends upon how diligent their central midfielder is.”
With the tie still goalless and a near capacity crowd expected to descend upon Bramall Lane, Smith suggested the onus is now on United to adopt a more offensive approach after watching the width of the crossbar prevent Craig Reid from handing Stevenage a first-half lead.
However, with Porter growing in stature as the evening progressed, United enjoyed the better of the second.
Wilson bridled at suggestions he had been overly conservative in Hertfordshire - “Do people think we weren’t trying to win the game?” - but conceded: “We’ll be very careful because if we get carried away with that then the second-leg will go against us.
“A lot of people make assumptions about the first leg and think the second is a foregone conclusion.
“It’s anything but that.”
United’s hopes of securing automatic promotion were thwarted when Stevenage, still unbeaten against the Sheffield clubs, secured a 2-2 draw in South Yorkshire 16 days ago.
Quinn threatened to overwhelm the visitors during a fast and furious opening before goals from Joel Byrom and Scott Laird saw Smith’s men seize the advantage.
Although Richard Cresswell, who could be recalled after starting the first leg on the substitutes bench, and Matthew Lowton duly wrestled it back, a point was not enough to prevent Sheffield Wednesday from climbing above United into second place.
Wilson said: “The three games we’ve had now have been very tight and I can’t see this one being any different.
“But if one team scores first then the game might open up and lets hope that’s us. We’ve got a great opportunity and we’ve got to force home our home advantage if we can.
“Playing at Wembley? What more incentive can you want?”
Teams and Ref
SHEFFIELD UNITED (Possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Hill, Williamson, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn, Cresswell, Porter.
STEVENAGE (Possible): Day, Lascelles, Roberts, Ashton, Laird, Bostwick, Byrom, Wilson, Freeman, Reid, Agyemang.
n miller (Co Durham): Will be making his first visit to Bramall Lane this season but did take charge of Sheffield United’s trips to Everton and Bury earlier this term. Has issued 104 cautions in just over 40 appearances and three red cards.