Sheffield United v Crewe Alexandra: No margin for error as Blades refuse to give in

BILLY SHARP admits Sheffield United no longer have any 'room for error' in a play-off race that he believes features up to seven teams chasing just one place.

Billy Sharp's goals have meant Sheffield United retain hope of reaching the play-offs.

The Blades head into the Easter double-header sitting six points adrift of Barnsley, who hold that final berth.

United host second-bottom Crewe Alexandra today, but then must wait until Wednesday to take on Southend United after the Roots Hall encounter was put back two days for live broadcast by Sky TV.

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With Barnsley facing Scunthorpe United and Port Vale over the holiday and seventh-placed Bradford City lined up for a crunch clash with Millwall tomorrow and then a trip to struggling Crewe, Nigel Adkins’s Blades probably need maximum points from their own two games.

“There is no room for error now,” said Sharp, the club’s top-scorer with 16 goals this term, to The Yorkshire Post.

“We have got nine games left and we need to get a run and some momentum going. If we can do that and find some form, then there is no better time than at this stage.

“Going into our last game against Millwall (which United lost 1-0), I thought we needed a point to keep them sucked in.

“Now, I think you are looking at one place (still up for grabs) with six or seven teams going for it.

“We are still in with a chance. It is the pressure part of the season. People aren’t expecting us to get in there (the top six) now.

“We still believe we can, but others probably don’t – and that might be a good thing.”

If United are to secure a fourth tilt at the League One play-offs in five years, they will have to overcome recent history.

Only two clubs have qualified for the promotion deciders when sitting outside the top six at the corresponding stage, Chesterfield who were 11th a year ago and Stevenage in 2011-12 when they rose from eighth with nine games to go to claim the final place in the play-offs.

Sharp, though, feels the Blades are capable of gate-crashing the top six and points to Barnsley as an example of how quickly a team’s season can turnaround.

When Conor Hourihane rescued a point against United at Oakwell on November 28, it was not enough to prevent the Reds slipping to the foot of the table.

Since then, however, Barnsley have been on an outstanding run not only to force their way into the top six, but also book a Wembley date in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.

Sharp added: “You see it every season in every division, someone goes on a run in all the leagues.

“Look at Barnsley. We were above them before Christmas, but they have put together a great string of results and we are trying to catch them now.

“It shows that it can be done. Every year someone charges through at this stage and we have to make sure that, in this division, it is us.”

United’s current form does not suggest the required run of victories is in the offing. Adkins’s men have won just four of 14 outings since the turn of the year and last week’s loss at The Den means, like Sharp suggests, that fifth place is probably out of reach for the Blades due to the Lions being 10 points ahead in the table.

Adkins, of course, is not giving up on anything. He has won three promotions from League One and the middle one of that trio with Scunthorpe United showed the value of keeping going to the very end.

The Iron pipped Tranmere Rovers to the final play-off place courtesy of a last-minute equaliser through Cliff Byrne against the Birkenhead club.

Two weeks later, victory over Millwall in the final had sealed promotion to the Championship.

“There were times at Scunthorpe that season when people wrote us off,” said the Blades’ chief. “Very much so.

“But we kept believing, continued to work hard on the training ground and it was brilliant because we really achieved something.”

For the fifth year running, United were priced as favourites by the bookmakers so the club’s stuttering form has been a major disappointment.

“I will review the season at the end,” said Adkins, when asked if this had been the toughest year of his management career.

“But it is fair to say this has been a tough gig. I won’t hide away from that.”

The 2015-16 campaign could yet, of course, end on a high for both Adkins and his players.

Top-scorer Sharp said: “On Good Friday, we are playing a team who are struggling but you saw what happened when we last played them.

“That can’t happen again and if we get that win, then we can be confident going into Southend.

“They are going for promotion, too. They are a good team but I think those games suit us.

“First, though, we face Crewe. Let’s get the win and then we can all look at what has happened elsewhere afterwards.

“We have belief because we know, if we do win, then others are likely to slip up.”

Alex Baptiste will miss today’s Crewe game, while David Edgar is also absent on international 
duty.

Last six games: Sheffield United WLLDWL, Crewe Alexandra LLDDLL.

Referee: A Woolmer (Northamptonshire).

Last time: Sheffield United 1 Crewe Alexandra 2; March 28, 2015; League One.