CHRIS BASHAM believes the high turnover of players at Sheffield United means the Blades’ play-off jinx will count for nothing this season.
The Blades have a woeful record in the play-offs. Six times they have qualified for the end-of-season lottery, and each time picked a losing ticket.
Twice they have gone out at the semi-final stage, against Sunderland (1998) and Yeovil Town (2013).
Four times they have reached the showpiece final only to fall at the last hurdle, against Crystal Palace (1997), Wolverhampton (2003), Burnley (2009) and Huddersfield Town (2012).
Against the Terriers, the Blades lost 8-7 on penalties after the tie finished 0-0 after extra-time, meaning Huddersfield were promoted to the Championship alongside Sheffield Wednesday.
United’s last flirtation with the play-offs came two seasons ago, when they lost 2-1 on aggregate to Yeovil.
But of the 18 players involved that lost 2-0 at Huish Park in the second leg, on May 6, 2013, just three (Ryan Flynn, Jamie Murphy and Michael Doyle) are likely to feature for the Blades next Thursday evening.
It means the majority of United’s players – who complete their regular season tomorrow lunchtime against Chesterfield – have been untainted by the Blades’ play-off failures.
Basham believes that could be key when United come up against either MK Dons, Swindon Town or Preston North End in next week’s two-legged semi-final.
“There’s a lot of new lads here who don’t really know much about the hoodoo,” said midfielder/defender Basham, a summer signing from Blackpool.
“Obviously the fans know about it, but I don’t.
“I think the good thing is, there’s only a few players, Flynn, Doyle, Collins, that were there at the time.
“I am just looking forward to getting there. I lost with Blackpool in the final to West Ham, so would like to put something right there. Hopefully, that will happen.
“It’s a clean slate. It’s not something we are thinking of, we are just looking forward to Thursday night.
“History means nothing. Jamie Murphy was telling us the other day that Huddersfield missed three penalties in 2012, and we still got beat. But nobody has really spoken about it.
“I do like the play-offs. We are going to finish fifth or sixth, and this gives us a chance to be promoted, so I am going to be a big fan of them.
“It’s a Cup game and anyone can win, you have seen in years gone by that you can finish sixth and still get promoted,” added Basham, who was at Blackpool when they missed out on the Premier League after losing 2-1 to West Ham United in 2012.
While the play-offs are assured for both United and the Spireites – and both teams will make changes for tomorrow’s game with one eye on Thursday – the game will define who plays who in the two-legged semi-finals.
Whoever wins tomorrow will finish in fifth place and play fourth-placed Swindon Town. The losers will be sixth after 46 games, and play the third-placed team, which will be either Preston or MK Dons.
Not that Basham is paying too much attention to who their opponents will be.
“We can play with freedom on Sunday, there’s no pressure on both sides,” said the 26-year-old, who started his career with Bolton Wanderers.
“I don’t think who we play in the play-offs is that important, MK Dons, Swindon or Preston, it’s going to be a tough semi-final game.
“Going into the play-offs, there is a lot of pressure on all the players to perform.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of this coming here. We have been there or thereabouts all season, so it’s important for us, we need to perform on the pitch as individuals, and as a team.
“There’s a lot of big-game players in this team, we have always played well against the good teams in our league – no disrespect to the others.
“We have always put on good performances when the pressure is on, like the Barnsley game the other week.
“It’s important now for the players to get mentally focused for the next few games – hopefully there’s four to go – and we enjoy every minute of it.”
United ahave been assured of a play-off spot for some time, despite only confirming their fate last weekend.
That could be reason behind their recent stuttering form, which has seen the Blades fail to win in their last four League One outings.
Blades manager Nigel Clough will make several changes tomorrow, resting a few players with minor knocks.
But he is keen to end the regular season with a Bramall Lane victory for the supporters.
“We don’t want to make changes unnecessarily, so it will be people who are carrying knocks, that will be the reason they don’t play,” said Clough.
“We have to have one eye on Thursday, but we still want to win the game.
“If we were going to write it off we would put the Under-21s out there, who have had a good season.”