NIGEL CLOUGH is refusing to take for granted a third tilt at the League One play-offs inside four years for Sheffield United despite admitting it will take a “strange combination” of results to deny his side.
The Blades looked on course to cement their place in the top six until Billy Clarke netted a deserved late equaliser for Bradford City.
Being pegged back by the Bantams left Clough’s men nine points clear of Rochdale, the only side that can now prevent the South Yorkshire outfit’s season being extended beyond May 3.
Keith Hill’s Dale have three games remaining, the first of which is tomorrow night at home to Leyton Orient.
Anything but a home win at Spotland will mean both United and sixth-placed Chesterfield clinching a play-off berth with two games of the regular season still to play.
Clough said: “We were five minutes away from confirming our place, but now we have to wait until Tuesday or Saturday.
“We have to lose two and they (Rochdale) have to win all three. It will have to be a strange combination (of results) to stop us but that can happen in football.
“I hope Orient can do us a favour on Tuesday night at Rochdale. If not, we will go and get a result at Orient on Saturday.”
After travelling to Brisbane Road for their penultimate game, United will then host Chesterfield on the final day.
Rochdale, meanwhile, take on Milton Keynes Dons at home this weekend and then head to Barnsley on May 3.
On the 1-1 draw against Bradford, Clough added: “It was a good Yorkshire derby, with plenty of tackles going in. But to concede like we did with five minutes to go was frustrating.
“It was a scruffy goal from our point of view. A daft free-kick to give away and that allowed Bradford to throw everyone forward. I felt it was almost a mis-hit that crept in the corner.
“On another day we would have seen it out. But we did have a bit of a resurgence once level and I did think Che Adams was going to get us a goal at the end.”
Providing United do go on to clinch a place in the play-offs, a lack of fit centre-backs could be an issue with Terry Kennedy being forced out of the weekend draw with a sore knee.
Clough, who already had Chris Basham again playing out of position alongside Kennedy, added: “We haven’t got any centre halves and his aerial prowess is his strongest point. When you lose him and have (James) Hanson and (Jon) Stead to deal with, it can be difficult.
“It was a blow but I thought Craig Alcock did well when he came on at left-back.”
Clarke’s late equaliser halted a three-game losing run for City, who had been hammered 6-0 at Valley Parade by champions Bristol City just four days earlier.
It was deserved reward for an impressive response to falling behind to Jason Holt’s 57th-minute opener, though not enough to keep alive the club’s already slim hopes of gatecrashing into the top six.
Bradford, thanks to that recent trio of defeats, are 10 points behind Chesterfield with three games to play. It means a season that saw the Bantams earn headlines around the world by beating Chelsea and Sunderland in the FA Cup will not, as Parkinson had hoped, be extended to the penultimate Sunday in May with a trip to Wembley.
“The Cup replays took their toll,” said the City chief. “We went with a small squad. Maybe, with hindsight, during the Cup run we should have got two or three players in. We had such a tight-knit spirit among the boys that I wanted to keep that together.
“It is easy to look back but, without doubt, any team who has a cup run in the lower leagues, it does affect you.”
On the manner of his side’s fightback against the Blades, Parkinson added: “We kept going and got our rewards, in the end.
“Bramall Lane is a difficult place to come, especially when you have just lost heavily at home.
“But we had some great chances, had two cleared off the line and James Hanson also had a great chance. We also didn’t get the penalty, which I have to say we don’t expect to get any more away from home.
“We haven’t had one for more than two years away from home. The lads were adamant in the dressing room that it was a penalty but, again, we didn’t get it.”
Parkinson, whose side were last awarded a spot-kick on the road in February, 2013 at Wycombe, felt Kennedy had handled a flick by Billy Knott to prevent it heading into a dangerous area.
Bramall Lane match report: Page 3.