HAD things worked out differently at the end of last season, Steven Davies would be preparing for tomorrow’s derby as a Sheffield United player.
Signed on loan from Blackpool in March, the striker was seen by then manager Nigel Clough as the last piece of the attacking jigsaw capable of propelling the Blades into the Championship.
Davies did, as Clough had wanted, provide a much-needed physical presence up front for the likes of Stefan Scougall, Jamie Murphy and Jose Baxter to play off.
In terms of winning promotion, however, it was not enough with United’s dream being ended on a quite remarkable evening at Swindon Town that saw the two clubs share 10 goals in a second leg tie that sent the hosts through to Wembley 7-6 on aggregate.
A few weeks later, Clough was gone and so was any chance of Davies making a permanent switch to Bramall Lane. Phil Parkinson duly stepped in, which is why the 27-year-old will be lining up against the Blades tomorrow in Bradford City colours.
“When I went to Sheffield United on loan,” Davies told The Yorkshire Post yesterday at City’s Apperley Bridge training base, “it was all geared for me to be there this season.
“Obviously, it didn’t work out like that with the manager leaving and Sheffield United losing in the play-offs. I was surprised Nigel got the sack, definitely.
“Nigel is someone I have got a lot of time for and always stuck by me throughout my career.
“You never like to see anyone losing their job and his record there wasn’t too bad.
“They had some great cup runs, got to the semi-finals (of the FA and League Cups), went to Wembley and a fifth-place finish last year wasn’t the worst considering how many games they had.”
Davies was on the bench for that record-breaking night at the County Ground as United’s promotion dreams were ended. He did, though, come on to score the Blades’ third goal during a remarkable finale that also saw Matty Done and Che Adams find the net to leave Swindon praying for the final whistle.
“It was bizarre,” recalls a striker who also played under Clough at Derby County. “We had enough chances in the first game to put the tie to bed but, instead, lost 2-1.
“Going there and scoring five goals, as an attacking player you can’t do that away and not win.
“It wasn’t anybody’s fault, in particular, just the way that the game went. I don’t think we’ll ever see a game like that again.
“To be 3-0 down after 20 minutes was a big shock to everyone. I think it made the minds up of the people at Sheffield United that they wanted to change it.
“At the time, though, I would never have guessed that was the case. In the dressing room after the Swindon game, the board came down and thanked everyone, especially Nigel.
“On a personal level, he did a great job in there. They were near the bottom of League One when he started. He steadied the ship and gave them some great days out. If they hadn’t had as many cup games last season, they would have definitely been top two.”
Parkinson, after being linked with a possible move to Bramall Lane in the wake of Clough’s dismissal, stepped in to sign Davies on a one-year deal last summer.
Since then, the 27-year-old has found starts hard to come by and is still waiting for his first goal.
That almost came a week ago at Fleetwood Town, only for a linesman’s flag to cut short Davies’s celebrations after scoring what he felt had been a perfectly legal last-minute ‘winner’.
“I am a goalscorer and want to be scoring,” he added. “I haven’t had many opportunities to play as a striker since I have been here.
“But I will always back myself. I have scored goals all my career and I am sure it won’t change if I get in the right positions.
“I did think I had scored at Fleetwood. I like to keep myself on the other side of the defender to keep them aware. There was a defender in front of me and I think he dropped off quick enough for me to set off. The linesman gave it offside. Sometimes they go for you, sometimes they don’t.”
Tomorrow’s high noon showdown could be watched by Valley Parade’s first 20,000-plus crowd in more than 13 years and Davies admits occasions like the derby with United are why he opted to join the Bantams.
“When you are out of contract, you always want to go to a big team and challenge yourself,” said the Liverpudlian. “I had interest from other clubs, but the size of Bradford and the stadium just drew me here.
“Sunday will just prove that. I am told there will be over 20,000 people there. They are the games when you grow up that you want to be involved in.”
As for taking on a host of familiar faces, Davies added: “The change of manager means the circumstances are different, but it will still be strange playing against a lot of friends I have had some great times with. Not just at Sheffield United, but Derby as well.
“I have spent five or six years with those lads at different clubs.
“You know how they play so you try and take the edge out of their game to see if you can gain an advantage.
“We are all good professionals so you put your friendship aside for 90 minutes and get on with the game. Afterwards, it is back to normal.
“It is more of an issue for families because you build relationships off the pitch as well. There are a lot of people I get on with who will be going to the game along with my family.
“They will all be sitting together so it will be strange for them. But, for myself and the other lads, it is just pretty much down to work.”