Sheffield United’s disappointment at Yeovil placed a minor blot on an otherwise impressive season for the White Rose contingent. Richard Sutcliffe reflects on an exhilarating campaign.
WHEN covering a football match, the intro – or opening paragraph, usually the hardest part of any report to write when up against a deadline – can often spring to mind from the unlikeliest of sources.
For yours truly, that was definitely the case early in the second half of Monday’s play-off semi-final second leg between Sheffield United and Yeovil Town.
With the sun beating down on the Blades fans standing on the open terrace at Huish Park and their team having seemingly ridden out the early storm of pressure that had brought a goal by Kevin Dawson to level the tie on aggregate at 1-1, I really fancied the Blades to go on and win.
Such confidence may seem ridiculously misplaced now, five days on. But, in mitigation, Chris Porter had just, not long after Jamie Murphy’s shot had cannoned off the crossbar, been presented with the kind of chance he really should have taken as the Glovers’ defence once again parted under pressure from the visitors.
The exhilaration of the previous two days out in the field – covering Hull City’s promotion back to the Premier League on Saturday and then Bradford City booking a second trip of the season to Wembley the following lunchtime – may also have been a factor in my confidence that the Blades were on the verge of making it a perfect Bank Holiday weekend for Yorkshire football by seeing off Yeovil.
So, as I contemplated a suitable way of marking United potentially clinching a place at their second League One play-off final inside 12 months, an old advertising slogan suddenly sprang to mind. Which is how I began typing: “If a certain Danish brewer really did do the perfect Bank Holiday weekend for Yorkshire football, then this surely was it.”
After the euphoria of the previous 48 hours – which had also seen Barnsley, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday avoid relegation – it seemed as appropriate a way as any of marking a momentous few days for the White Rose.
Of course, the moment Ed Upson headed what proved to be the winner with just five minutes remaining at Huish Park, the intro had to go as all hopes of a record-breaking season – where no less than five promotions could have been celebrated within the Broad Acres – were at an end.
Instead, as thousands of delighted locals invaded the pitch, the dejected United players and supporters were left contemplating yet another season in League One.
It is a prospect that is unlikely to have become any more appealing today so, as this column takes a look back at what has otherwise been a season to savour in Yorkshire, United fans may want to look away now.
In what has to have been the most unpredictable Championship of all time, Hull may have not so much leapt over the line in the Championship as staggered courtesy of taking just two points from their final four games.
But that should not be allowed to detract from a truly marvellous effort by Steve Bruce’s men, who until a combination of pitches becoming heavier and Sone Aluko being ruled out for the season had been a joy to watch.
Certainly, ask the Leeds United squad who were the best side they faced and chances are ‘Hull’ will figure strongly in their replies.
Millwall, too, are unlikely to have forgotten the first half at the KC Stadium that saw the Londoners’ defence breached four times, while back-to-back wins on the road at Watford and Nottingham Forest in early December displayed Hull had the mental strength to last the course.
Hull’s promotion was, of course, confirmed in dramatic fashion as a missed penalty in stoppage time by Nick Proschwitz was followed by Cardiff City racing up the other end to win their own penalty and equalise. A 12-minute wait then ensued before news came through that Hull were up thanks to Leeds winning at Watford.
In League One, Doncaster Rovers had, arguably, an even more dramatic final day as James Coppinger sealed the title with a winning goal that came – quite unbelievably – after Brentford had missed a stoppage-time penalty that, had it been converted, would have condemned Brian Flynn’s men to the play-offs.
Compared to Hull and Rovers, Rotherham’s promotion from League Two was – on the surface – a relatively straight-forward affair. However, while the final-day win over Aldershot Town was routine, the Millers had started April in seventh place and in real danger of missing out altogether.
The big question now is whether Bradford can make it four promotions for the county by triumphing against Northampton Town in the League Two play-off final a week tomorrow.
If the Bantams do return to the third tier, it will represent Yorkshire’s joint best season when it comes to getting teams out of a division, matching the 1983-84 campaign.
As with this term, Yorkshire had no top flight representative back then. Sheffield Wednesday, under Howard Wilkinson, ended that exile by finishing as runners-up behind Chelsea in Division Two, while Sheffield United went up by the narrowest of margins from the level below – pipping Hull to third place on goals scored after finishing level on 83 points and with a goal difference apiece of plus 33.
Completing the quartet of White Rose promotions were York City, champions of Division Four with a colossal 101 points, and runners-up Doncaster.
It was a golden campaign for Yorkshire, eclipsing the previous best of 1980-81 (Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster), 1968-69 (Doncaster, Halifax and Bradford City) and 1958-59 (Wednesday, Hull and York). Since then, 2003-04 brought a trio of promotion successes as Doncaster, Hull and Huddersfield all left the basement division behind.
What a shame, therefore, the Blades could not keep alive the dream of an unprecedented five promotions – which really would have been worth toasting with a pint or three of that Danish beer.