All those years of hurt are banished as Sheffield United reach the Premier League - big-match verdict

THE moment was one that had been 12 long years in the making.

On our way: Jack O'Connell celebrates scoring the second goal.

A dozen years and a lorry-load of heartache for Sheffield United, who since dropping out of the Premier League had lost twice at Wembley as part of four unsuccessful tilts at the play-offs.

Along the way there had, of course, been a promotion from League One under Chris Wilder.

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But even that 2017 title success came on the back of a six-year stay in the third tier that had stretched supporters’ patience to the limit.

Memories of all those bumps in the road at footballing outposts such as Yeovil and Swindon were banished shortly after 7pm on Saturday.

Referee Tim Robinson blowing the final whistle to signal victory over Ipswich Town kick-started a joyous party, the likes of which S2 had not seen since promotion to the top flight had last been achieved under Neil Warnock in 2006.

Wilder and top-scorer Billy Sharp led the on-pitch celebrations as supporters displayed commendable restraint to stay off the pitch.

It felt right that two lifelong Blades should be centre stage, not least because both had played such pivotal roles in turning to reality dreams that had seemed a long, long way from being fulfilled when the season kicked off back in August with consecutive defeats to Swansea City and Middlesbrough.

Manager and captain appreciated better than anyone just what this return to the top table of English football meant.

For far too long United had been forced to play second fiddle even in their own city. But now the tables had turned.

‘Mind the gap’, the chant that during those wilderness years in League One became the insult of choice for Wednesday supporters, now belongs to the red and white half of Sheffield.

No one is happier about that than Wilder, a ball-boy as a child who grew into a full-back who had two spells at the Lane before returning as manager to spark the dramatic transformation in fortunes that means the Blades will be doing battle with Liverpool and Manchester City next season.

“This is a special time to be a Blade,” Wilder told The Yorkshire Post. “This is not a glory-hunting club, I have always said that.

“We do not win Premier League titles year after year, or compete in the European Cup.

“Instead we have been down to the old Fourth Division, come back up, gone down again and then come back.

“Our supporters have taken an unbelievable amount of grief in this city over quite a long time – and especially over those six years. To now be in the Premier League gives me an enormous sense of pride.”

The afternoon had begun amid an air of expectation, tinged with nerves that Ipswich might not prove as pliable as their sorry tally of just four league wins all season suggested.

A sell-out Bramall Lane crowd, at least in the home areas, need not have worried. The gulf between the two sides did justice to the fact one will be competing at Anfield next term as the other heads to Priestfield.

Paul Lambert’s side were dreadful, toothless in attack and so lacking in finesse that most passing moves lasted barely long enough to limp over the halfway line.

So impotent were the Tractor Boys, in fact, that Dean Henderson had to wait until 89 minutes were on the clock to make a save worthy of the name. Even then the loanee had little trouble in touching a speculative effort from Alan Judge over the crossbar.

United, while never reaching the heights that ha ve made this promotion so richly deserved, had far too much quality for Ipswich.

Northern Ireland’s Oliver Norwood controlled central midfield along with John Fleck, while Mark Duffy provided that little bit of extra attacking polish required on a day when nerves could have become frayed.

Liverpudlian Duffy’s ability to hold up play long enough for Jack O’Connell to scamper forward in the 24th minute was key to United making the all-important breakthrough.

Having darted towards the byline, the United defender slid a low cross for striker Scott Hogan to guide past goalkeeper Dean Gerken with the deftest of touches.

The Blades continued to press and Norwood was unfortunate to see his free-kick strike a post early in the second half.

John Egan and David McGoldrick were also left rueing their luck when both went agonisingly close with headers before the clinching goal arrived 19 minutes from time.

It was a fitting example of how the Blades get the basics right as a pinpoint corner from Fleck sailed over a sea of blue shirts to be met by a bullet-header from O’Connell that bounced in off the underside of the crossbar.

Cue those ecstatic party scenes as all those years of hurt were swept away thanks to a promotion that means Wilder has now achieved the clean sweep by taking clubs into the top four tiers of English football.