SHEFFIELD United returned from the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Stevenage with a rare clean sheet that should serve to boost their chances of promotion.
Although a victory would have been better, it is important not to lose the first leg as an away side.
The Blades have suffered enough play-off heartbreak down the years to know exactly that.
Five times out of five they have come unstuck in play-offs and even manager Danny Wilson has a 100 per cent failure rate in four attempts as a manager at Bristol City and Swindon Town.
Last night’s goalless draw – the second clean sheet for the Blades since Valentine’s Day and the first in seven games – gives the Blades a psychological advantage ahead of Monday’s second leg at Bramall Lane.
Having surrendered their grip on automatic promotion in the last two weeks, the Blades need to go via Wembley in order to get back in the Championship.
Stevenage finished 17 points adrift of the Blades in sixth spot but are no pushovers and took four points from a possible six in the season’s two league meetings.
Had they not held the Blades to a draw in the penultimate league game of the season, things might have turned out so differently.
Wilson made three changes, opting not to start with striker Richard Cresswell, who is still carrying a shoulder injury, despite a shortage of attacking options. Winger Stephen Quinn was given the job of supporting striker Chris Porter from the midfield hole.
Cresswell dropped to the bench along with left-back Andy Taylor while James Beattie was suspended.
Matt Hill returned at left-back and there were also recalls for Porter and Ryan Flynn.
England defender Kyle Walker was among the Blades fans in the away end – supporting his former club in their quest to return to the Championship.
Walker, now at Tottenham Hotspur, played at Wembley three years ago when the Blades lost in the Championship play-off final to Burnley.
Only two years ago, Stevenage were still a non-League club and their ground is now struggling to keep up with the team’s progress.
The tiny Lamex Stadium was packed to the rafters, the terraces that still exist on two sides bouncing.
The progress of the Hertfordshire club carries echoes of that made by Doncaster Rovers, indeed the ground is not unlike the old Belle Vue.
Early pressure from the Blades saw Porter tumble to the deck under pressure from Lascelles in the area but no penalty was given.
The Blades took time to settle but started to look threatening midway through the first half.
Manager Wilson was furious when the referee ignored pleas for a free-kick on the edge of the area after Flynn was sent sprawling by Lawrie Wilson.
Luke Freeman, who had tormented the Blades’ defence at Bramall Lane two weeks ago, was again a threat from the Stevenage midfield.
Knowing the danger he posed, it was surprising that the Blades did not seek to intimidate him more. Full-back Matt Lowton, for example, often looked ill at ease dealing with his advances on the flank.
Stevenage’s pressure started to tell as half-time loomed and it took a desperate fingertip save from Blades goalkeeper Steve Simonsen to keep the scoreline goalless.
Craig Reid spotted Simonsen far enough off his line to curl a 25-yard shot over his head but the goalkeeper just managed to tip the ball against the crossbar.
The Blades had an equally close opportunity moments later when Stevenage’s Michael Bostwick inadvertently hooked the ball towards his own net, forcing Chris Day to tip over.
Stevenage had edged the first half but it was the Blades who made the brighter start after the break.
Quinn, now dropping deep, floated a cross to the far post but Wilson won an important header with Flynn and the danger passed.
Stevenage lost few headers around their own area all night such was their physical strength and height at the back.
Freeman provided another scare for the Blades but his dangerous cross fizzed just beyond the reach of Wilson.
He was then involved in controversy at the opposite end but his clumsy challenge on Williamson was deemed fair by the referee.
The pressure to score was probably greater for Stevenage but the Blades looked the more dangerous as the game reached the hour mark. There were still flashes of inspiration from the home side, with Freeman and Patrick Agyemang pulling the strings, but the Blades were now enjoying their best spell. With Quinn in midfield, things improved significantly and the Dubliner set up arguably the Blades’ best opportunity on 71 minutes with a precision pass that put Flynn away.
Unfortunately for the Blades, Flynn lacked the courage to go it alone and his attempted pull back was hacked away.
The game began to swing from end to end. Ashton might have scored for Stevenage at a corner and McDonald’s shot for the Blades deflected into the goalkeeper’s arms. Williamson had a shot blocked in stoppage time but honours ended even.
Former Blades striker Jordan Slew did not even make the bench for the home side after struggling to impress on loan from Blackburn.
Stevenage Borough: Day; Lascelles (Myrie-Williams 82), Ashton, Roberts, Laird; Wilson, Byrom ( Shroot 71), Bostwick Freeman; Reid (Mousinho 65), Agyemang. Unused substitutes: Julian, Beardsley,.
Sheffield United: Simonsen; Lowton, Collins, Maguire, Hill; Williamson, Doyle, McDonald (Ertl 90) Quinn; Porter, Flynn (Cresswell 90). Unused substitutes: Howard, Taylor, O’Halloran.
Referee: T Bates (Staffordshire).