SHEFFIELD United will finish the season without Ched Evans after the striker was found guilty of rape yesterday and jailed for five years.
Evans had been on trial for the last two weeks and the verdict has sent shockwaves around Bramall Lane. The Blades still have three games to play in their quest for automatic promotion back to the Championship and Welsh international Evans is the club’s leading marksman with 35 goals.
Manager Danny Wilson is not commenting on the loss of the striker, who had been scheduled to play in today’s game at Milton Keynes Dons.
Judge Merfyn Hughes QC, however, told Evans that he had ‘thrown away his career’ at Caernarfon Crown Court.
Evans, who cost £3m from Manchester City three years ago, was one of the highest paid players on United’s books but his contract, worth an estimated £20,000-a-week, expires this summer.
United must now look to finish the job of securing promotion back to the Championship without their star striker.
Manager Wilson will be keen not to let the events of yesterday affect his team’s momentum as they look for the result which could see them go up today.
Wilson believes the style of football played by United this season has been key to winning over his doubters. When the former Sheffield Wednesday manager was appointed by the Blades last summer, it sparked protests in the Bramall Lane car park.
Today, if the Blades beat MK Dons and Wednesday lose to Carlisle, the club will have secured promotion and manager Wilson will be a hero. To make things even sweeter for the Blades, they will also deny their arch-rivals automatic promotion by nailing second spot in the League One table.
Wilson, who managed today’s opponents six years ago, said: “The attitudes have changed because of the football. I think they have enjoyed the football and I have enjoyed watching it too.
“When you are paying your money, you don’t want to be sat bored in your seat. They want to be entertained and they have a right to be entertained. I think that is why the support has grown and getting good results and challenging at this end of the table adds even more excitement.
“Thankfully, we have all moved together and we have got closer together as we have gone along.”
The Blades strengthened their grip on second spot last weekend when beating Leyton Orient while the Owls managed only a draw against Colchester.
It left Wilson’s men with a four-point advantage and only three games to play but, despite the possibilities, Wilson does not believe anything will be settled this afternoon. If the Owls manage only a draw and the Blades win, the gap increases to six points with two to play but with the Blades already having a lead of 13 in terms of goal difference – which is unlikely to be wiped out in the final two games.
If the Owls win, the fight for the second spot will still be alive next weekend. Fourth-placed MK Dons are virtually guaranteed a play-off spot but still need a point to be certain.
The Owls’ opponents Carlisle, meanwhile, are eighth and only a point adrift of the play-off zone.
Owls manager Dave Jones said: “We need a slice of luck because we are asking the team above us to lose points. But we have been relying on teams to falter since the day I walked into the club.”
Four defeats in five games have led to Huddersfield being unable to keep pace with their Steel City rivals and slip to fifth, their lowest position in 16 months. A win at home to Scunthorpe today would, however, clinch a play-off place.
Manager Simon Grayson said: “Once you get into the play-offs, form does go out the window but I do think it is important that you carry confidence and momentum into the semi-finals.”
Previews: Pages 2&3.