Nerves of steel not required as duo anticipate triumph for their clubs

Ian Appleyard sought the views of ex-Blade Keith Edwards and former Owl Mel Sterland on the race for promotion. No prizes for guessing the respective clubs they are backing to succeed.

The titanic tussle between Steel City rivals Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday for Championship football goes on.

The promotion pendulum has swung one way and then the other over the last two weekends.

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Many had warned about the ‘twists and turns’ that lay ahead in the final games of the season, the biggest twist coming off the field with the jailing of Blades striker Ched Evans for rape.

When the Owls slipped up against Colchester United 10 days ago, that looked like a killer result. But then the Blades, minus Evans, hit the skids against Milton Keynes Dons.

Now the focus shifts to this weekend – the penultimate round of fixtures – with the Owls away at Brentford and the Blades at home to Stevenage.

If the Blades, who are a point ahead in second place, win and the Owls, who are third, lose it will be all over.

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If the Blades win and the Owls only draw, it is more or less over, too, thanks to goal difference.

Any other combination of results will take it to the final weekend of the season when the Blades visit Exeter City and the Owls play host to Wycombe Wanderers.

Former Sheffield United striker Keith Edwards and former Sheffield Wednesday defender Mel Sterland have been watching the drama unfold.

Edwards works as radio summariser for the Blades and Sterland is a regular guest of the Owls and writes a column for the match programme.

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Both have been sharing the tension felt by supporters and both are keeping their fingers crossed for success. Not surprisingly, both are also tipping their own clubs to win the scrap.

Edwards says the Blades will take six points from the next two games, Sterland says not.

He believes the Blades will slip up against Stevenage, who have moved into the play-off zone after victories in their last three games.

“It’s squeaky bum time now,” said Sterland yesterday. “What happened last weekend was unbelievable. The results couldn’t have worked out any better for Wednesday.

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“I don’t know if Sheffield United are feeling sorry for themselves after Ched Evans got his prison sentence but they will definitely miss him now because he is a natural goalscorer.

“Wednesday will win the last two games and it is just a shame that we dropped some silly points at times this season because it could have been over and done with.

“It is going to go to the wire,” he added. “But United have a really tough game this weekend against a team who work hard and get the ball forward quickly. I think that will be a draw.”

Sheffield-born Sterland, who won promotion with the Owls in 1983, would, ideally, like both clubs to go up this season and is no fan of the play-offs.

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“I think it’s rubbish that a team can finish eight or nine points clear in third spot and not go up automatically,” he said. “I would prefer it if we went back to the three up, three down system - but we don’t make the rules.

“Obviously, I want Wednesday to go up automatically but I would be happy if United won the play-offs. After all the doom and gloom of the last few years, it’s nice that we are talking about possible success again for the Sheffield clubs. When the football clubs are doing well, everyone else is happy and both these clubs belong in the Premier League, let alone the Championship.”

Former Blades striker Edwards, the scorer of nearly 150 league goals during spells at Bramall Lane in both the Seventies and Eighties, thinks the Owls have left it too late to steal second spot.

“I respect the fact that Sheffield Wednesday have two games that they have every chance of winning and Dave Jones, who I worked with briefly at Stockport, has done a good job as manager so far,” he said. “But I am confident that United will win their remaining two games.

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“If anyone had offered us this situation at the start of the season, we would have taken it. Yes, it’s a pressure situation but (Blades manager) Danny Wilson has been absolutely fabulous in the way he has conducted himself all season and deserves great credit for keeping his players nice and level headed.

“We both have attractive but tough away games to come and we have proved to be a very good team away from home in the last couple of months. My only concern is that Exeter, I think, will have been relegated by the time we go there – and you would prefer to play a team that is under some kind of pressure.”

Edwards agrees that the Blades missed Evans against MK Dons and will also miss his goals in the final two league games. But he added: “We are not a one-man team. Lee Williamson has scored 12 goals this season and I think Chris Porter is capable of scoring goals now he is back in the side.

“There are goals all the way through the side so I don’t see it as a problem. But, of course, you are always going to miss a kid who has scored over 30 goals.

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“Footballers have to cope with problems like this and, if Ched Evans had suffered a hamstring injury, they would still have had to deal with his absence.”

As for this football writer, I find the question of who will go up a lot harder to answer.

Only two months ago, I hastily wrote off the Owls after the sacking of Gary Megson. In hindsight, I had underestimated the ease with which they would go through the transitional period under Dave Jones and the return of 26 points from a possible 30 in the last 10 games has helped vindicate the decision by Owls chairman Milan Mandaric to make a change.

But do I see the Blades dropping points in the last two games? No.

I think they will have too much for Stevenage at home, especially if striker Richard Cresswell is fit, and Exeter’s fire will have gone out by the final weekend.