Heartache only serves to inspire Maguire to aim higher

NO ONE at Bramall Lane needs reminding of Sheffield United’s dismal record in the play-offs.

Six attempts, six excruciating failures. The most recent of those in May was perhaps the cruellest of the lot as it took two hours of football and 22 penalties to separate the Blades and Huddersfield Town at Wembley.

No wonder, therefore, that United are desperate to avoid putting themselves through the emotional wringer this time around by clinching a place in the top two.

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Harry Maguire, as one of just five still at the club from last season’s starting line-up against the Terriers, is as keen as anyone to banish those Wembley memories.

The 20-year-old is also, however, adamant that the heartache of May 26, 2012 can help the Blades prevail in this term’s League One promotion race.

“What happened last season is inspiring us,” said the 20-year-old defender to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s lunchtime game with promotion rivals Brentford.

“We don’t want to go through that again. I felt we got over it straight away, but, even so, it is always in your mind and we don’t want to go through it again.

“We want to get in that top two and not to have to go through the play-offs.

“What happened last year will help us, too. We have also got a lot more experience in the squad.

“Those who have come in, like Barry Robson and Dave Kitson, have all been in promotion-challenging teams in the past. So they have been there, seen it and done it.

“Having that experience around you makes you feel comfortable and more confident. After a game like last week (when United slumped to a shock 4-0 defeat at Stevenage), they are also good at keeping us level-headed.

“The older lads are very good in the dressing room for things like that.”

With just six points separating leaders Doncaster Rovers from Yeovil Town in seventh place, the race for promotion is markedly different to a year ago.

Back then, the points spread across the top seven places with eight games of the campaign remaining was a mammoth 26. Runaway leaders Charlton Athletic were also all but up, leaving the two Sheffield clubs to scrap it out for second place.

In the end, the Owls prevailed to condemn their Steel City rivals to the play-offs despite amassing 90 points.

United, who boast 65 points with nine games to play, can mathematically still surpass last season’s tally, but it is unlikely.

Nevertheless, Maguire remains confident that the Blades will prevail over the final weeks of the campaign.

He said: “At this stage of the season, it is all about the points now. I will take a scrappy 1-0 win every time.

“Everyone is very determined to get in that top two, because that is where we want to be and where we believe we can be.

“Stevenage was disappointing, but we are ready to bounce back.”

Asked if the belief among the squad was different or similar to that which Danny Wilson’s squad had during last season’s run-in, Maguire replied: “I wouldn’t say it feels any different.

“We were very confident of winning promotion a year ago, as we are this season. If we do everything right and work hard then we will be there or thereabouts.”

Regardless of how the Blades fare during the run-in, Maguire’s own campaign has been another triumph. Having made his United debut in the final month of 2010-11, the Academy product cemented his place at the heart of the defence last term.

Any fears that he may suffer from ‘second season syndrome’ this time around were quickly swept away by a string of impressive displays, while international honours have also come his way courtesy of an England Under-21s debut.

Maguire has worked hard on his game. For instance, when the Yorkshire Post visited United’s Shirecliffe training ground earlier this week, the 20-year-old, along with Neill Collins, spent half an hour after training working on his heading skills with coach – and one-time United stalwart – Chris Morgan.

Such dedication is why Maguire has become one of the first names on Wilson’s team-sheet. The defender said: “I have been given great advice by Morgs.

“After we have conceded sloppy goals, he has told me how I could do things better, and I have then taken that into the next match.

“We do extras in training every day. We did heading with Morgs and it is nice to have a coach on the sideline who has played in my position.

“I didn’t get to play with Morgs on the pitch, but we all know what a player he was. He is a great coach and someone who will go on and reach the top.”

On his own form, Maguire added: “People told me that a player’s second season can be a difficult one because there is a bit more pressure on you.

“There is an expectation that maybe there isn’t in your first season. Playing with Neill has been a big help. We have got a good partnership.

“You get a sense of where someone is going to be – telepathy, if you like – when you have worked with them a long time and that is what we have done.

“He knows the weaknesses and strengths of my game and I know the same about his. Playing together does that.

“But I am not going to say what I am good at and he is good at otherwise he will have a go at me like he does out on the pitch.

“What I can say, though, is that as a young lad it is great to play alongside someone with experience.

“We also have a little competition on who is going to score the most.

“Last season, we had one with Matt Lowton and he won. But he has gone now so we have done the same again and are both level on five.

“It is only a little wager and a bit of fun. We both really want to score a few more between now and the end of the season as that can only help the team.”