Promotion beckons as Sheffield United look to complete Lane mission

Celebrations for Sheffield United's promotion to the Premier league in 2006.
Celebrations for Sheffield United's promotion to the Premier league in 2006.
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MENTION Feethams, Filbert Street and Molineux to any Sheffield United follower of a certain age and memories of delicious Spring-time occasions will instantaneously come to the surface.

Those venues witnessed memorable promotion or title-clinching episodes in days of yore for the club – as lifelong Blade Chris Wilder and thousands of his fellow Unitedites can no doubt testify – and another famous occasion potentially beckons much closer to home this evening.

Wilder’s current charges are on the cusp of another joyous promotion episode in the club’s history and the emotions will be a mixture of sheer elation and relief if the Blades beat Coventry City and third-placed Fleetwood lose out to Oxford.

It would end what all those on the red-and-white side of the Steel City view as a six-season purgatory in League One.

Given Wilder’s obvious deep attachment with the club, it would represent a massively proud moment – although the job would clearly be far from finished.

Regardless of whether promotion is clinched this evening, going up would represent the entree to the main course of league silverware.

You have to go back to 1981-82 for the last time that the Blades lifted a title, the old Fourth Division championship when 10,000 away fans witnessed a 2-0 victory at Darlington on May 15, 1982.

It has been a long wait between drinks and Wilder is intent on slaking the thirst of Unitedites.

Wilder said: “I was 13 and I did not manage to get to Darlington, but my pals did. There are all sorts of stories you hear about fancy dress and taking over the old ground up there.

“We have got an opportunity to achieve something here. This is not a glory hunting team; if you support this club you have had to suffer. It is a proper football club and the fans have been through a lot; good and bad to be fair.

“It has been a spike club, there have been ups and downs, it is in our history. But we have an opportunity to put the marker down for this season and it is important that we take it.”

Given their outstanding feats over the past eight months when results have been wonderfully consistent and a team of talented, streetwise footballers and sound individuals have reconnected with a club’s fanbase, you sense that Wilder’s class of 2016-17 believe that they owe it to each other to gild promotion with silverware – and not just supporters.

Recent results and standards also suggest that they definitely will not settle for anything else.

Wilder, whose side are unbeaten in their past 11 matches with the run incorporating seven wins, added: “I think we are powering towards the finishing line. Some clubs are stumbling; I think we are powering.

“We have taken a step up in terms of the training intensity and for us, as a staff, to see that now fills us with belief and excitement going into the last month.

“The lads just want to achieve and they keep driving each other on.

“We have never looked to be second-best to anybody in this division. We want to be the No 1 team.

“We have put ourselves in a great position to do that and the players have not shied away from it.

“It has been a ridiculous amount of time for us to be in this division. You do not enter a race to come second or third, do you?”

The Blades players may have been cooling their heels over the weekend, but given results elsewhere there was still that same sense of exhilaration that all footballers crave come 5pm on a Saturday.

Fleetwood’s shock loss to Swindon Town provided a window of opportunity for the Blades to clinch a top-two place with five games to go this evening, with Bolton’s similarly surprise home draw with another struggling side in Chesterfield being an added bonus.

The club’s squad all followed those developments intently and the texts were soon flying around thick and fast, according to utility man Chris Basham, with the mood at the training ground on Monday morning being understandably sky-high at the start of the working week.

Now it is all about remaining on message and finishing off the job by beating Coventry – and hoping that Oxford can do them a favour at the Kassam Stadium.

Basham said: “I think the way that the gaffer has put it across to us is, ‘go out, do your business first and then anything can happen’. It would be great if it does happen, but you will not know until the game has finished as Fleetwood are playing at the same time.

“When we went home after training on Saturday, we all said that we hoped that the results go our way and as soon as Swindon scored, Kieron Freeman messaged in saying, ‘The Fleetwood game’ and all that and all the ‘get in’ messages started coming in. Then with Chesterfield going to Bolton, you couldn’t see anything other than a win for Bolton.

“All the lads were buzzing on Monday morning. The good thing this year is everyone can’t wait to get into training and we have that morale and togetherness.

“It sets it up really nicely for the title and promotion.

“The manager and staff have kept believing all the way. Even when we stumbled against Fleetwood a few months ago, the gaffer had a meeting between us all and said the next game against Wimbledon was the big one and we’ve been on a run ever since.

“Now the lads don’t want to break the run as we want another 16- or 17-game unbeaten run, which is an important thing.”

Last six games: Sheffield United DWWWDW Coventry LLLWWW.

Referee: R Joyce (Cleveland).

Last time: Sheffield United 1 Coventry 0; December 13, 2015; League One.