These Sheffield United players won't be haunted by ghosts of past play-off misery

Big match experience. Blades have bags of it, no worries there.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 11:45 am

It’s just that when it comes to the play-offs, Sheffield United fans can make the same claim. And that experience, for them, has made things worse, not easier.

But it’s important that their sheer dread of another end-of-season shoot-out, understandably felt by supporters everywhere, won’t be shared in the dressing room.

That nightmare hangs around and haunts other sets of players, not this one, spanning four defeats in play-off finals and no victories.

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lliman Ndiaye and Morgan Gibbs-White celebrate a goal for Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

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This one contains a core of double promotion winners, players who fleetingly became the ninth best team in the Premier League before regrouping under a new manager this season just as relegation last year threatened to consign them to history.

Only Chris Basham knows what it is like for United to miss out in the play-offs - at the semi-final stage in 2015 - and he has subsequently buried that anguish under a pile of glorious memories.

You ask whether Basham and these players will be haunted by any reflections on what for them is the distant past? I very much doubt it.

Consider the steel that’s got them to this stage, a nerveless 4-0 destruction of champions Fulham. Consider how, without their talismanic skipper and top scorer in Billy Sharp, they rattled up seven goals in the last two league games.

That said, the fatalism of those followers with longer recall is easy to comprehend. “First, second or seventh,” is the pre-season wish list of at least a couple I know.

But this jinx or hoodoo, whatever it is, has to end sometime. Why not now?

When it comes to belief this dressing room is clearly as high on it as supporters are low when it comes down to a two or three match shoot-out.

It’s a belief infused and rekindled by Paul Heckingbottom when he took charge of a team placed 16th in November.

“Don’t worry about results,” the board told him, or words to that effect. “You won’t be judged on them.”

Hecky responded politely, hiding his obvious surprise, and mentally tore up his terms of reference.

The hierarchy may have virtually discounted any chance of promotion but he hadn’t - not with these players.

He knew also that the fans would judge him on results even if the board said they wouldn’t.

And so we come to that long-term plan based on development of youth being a gift of a short cut back to the riches of the Premier League.

Hecky and the players, plus the fans, are the ones who deserve that opportunity the most, even if employing him was an even wiser move than anyone in the boardroom can have imagined.

And so to two legs with a more than equally resurgent Nottingham Forest, starting at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

Of one thing I’m convinced; no bottling out, they’re going to give it a damn good go.