Sheffield United will today celebrate 150 years of football at Bramall Lane and striker Nick Blackman hopes the current bunch of Blades can be crowned League One champions to add to the celebrations.
Bramall Lane is the world’s oldest venue where professional football is still played, and today marks the anniversary of the 0-0 draw between Sheffield FC and Hallam FC in 1862.
The stadium was first used for cricket in 1855, but the football game was played to raise money for the Lancashire Distress Fund.
The Blades will mark the occasion with a 100-page special edition programme, including 150 images from three centuries of football at Bramall Lane.
Also, United will pay tribute to a large turnout from the 3rd battalion Yorkshire Regiment, including relatives of the 10 soldiers who lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan.
With Danny Wilson’s modern-day side leading the League One table – they are two points clear of second-placed Tranmere Rovers after three successive clean sheets – it all adds to a day of celebration at the Lane today.
But Blackman, United’s top scorer with 12 goals this term, has warned against a potential banana skin against Hartlepool United, who are anchored at the foot of League One with just nine points from 23 games, with just one solitary win.
The former Blackburn Rovers player insists United’s aim is to be crowned champions this season, after the Blades missed out on automatic promotion to city rivals Wednesday on the final day of last season before losing at Wembley in the play-offs against Huddersfield Town.
“There’s an expectation here when you play in front of 21,000 at Bramall Lane, but we know we are there now and we want to go up, but determined to finish first,” said Blackman.
“We are there to be shot at and are determined not to let that happen.”
Blackman netted from the penalty spot to wrap up a 3-0 win over Scunthorpe United on Boxing Day, following goals from Shaun Miller and Dave Kitson.
But Brian Laws’s Iron side – fighting against relegation like Hartlepool – battled well and were unlucky not to be level at half-time, Damien Mozika hitting the crossbar with a header from six yards out.
“Scunthorpe came here, rolled their sleeves up and tried to frustrate us and gave us a good battle,” said Blackman. “They put their foot in on a few hefty challenges.
“But we outbattled them, outfought them, outran them and that’s why we got the great victory against Scunthorpe.
“We expect nothing less against Hartlepool. It could be even harder, because Hartlepool are also down there, scrapping to stay in the league, so it’s going to be another massive game and we need the same again.
“It was a good performance by the lads and a great three points.
“It was a great Boxing Day performance, a 3-0 victory. Obviously we had a great result (at Crawley) at the weekend so we knew over the festive period it would be a big occasion for us.”
While United were pre-season favourites for promotion, Wilson has assembled a side that has gelled quickly this campaign, suffering just two defeats in 24 games.
Blackman believes it is the players’ high expectations on the pitch that has engineered their run to the top of the table.
“The boys have played together now for three or four months and are all aware of what each other is capable of,” he said. “We won’t let anyone with getting away with not producing the goods because we know what talented players we have here.
“Individually, we are our worst critics, but everyone knows what they are capable of and we try to deliver in every game. We won’t let anything less than 100 per cent be given.
“The boys are great, you have a few really big characters like Dave Kitson, Tony (McMahon) in there, who just make everyone laugh, there’s banter flying 24/7. But it’s been great, the new players have settled in really quickly – including me – and everyone is just enjoying their time here.
“Our bench is really young. People like Joe Ironside are moving up and they are really coming into contention. We are not just using young players to fill gaps, Joe is there on merit.
“He is there to keep going and put pressure on the lads. We see what he does in training.
“The boys are giving (the youngsters) praise when they do things well, and letting them know when they don’t do things well which is part and parcel of football.”
As for Blackman himself, the 23-year-old striker insists United fans have not see the best of him yet despite leading the Lane scoring charts with 12 goals since his summer switch from Blackburn Rovers.
“I don’t think I have hit the ground too quickly at United, to be honest,” he said. “But that’s me expecting more and not being happy with just what you have.
“As an individual, I have had it since I was young, I always strive for more. I never accept okay, I always want to do more. I don’t think that’s a bad thing and I don’t think it will ever leave me either.”