Sheffield United 3 Leyton Orient 1: Blades set course for immediate return to Championship waters

Danny Wilson celebrates.  Photo:  BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Danny Wilson celebrates. Photo: BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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AFTER a weekend when the world remembered the Titanic exactly 100 years on, describing any vessel as ‘unsinkable’ could be viewed as tempting fate.

In terms of the good ship Sheffield United, however, it now seems unthinkable that Captain Michael Doyle and his men won’t be sailing in Championship waters come the start of next season.

A potentially pivotal day in the League One promotion race saw the Blades win as Steel City rivals Wednesday could only draw at Colchester United to leave Danny Wilson’s side with what, when goal difference is taken into account, is a five point advantage.

Even allowing for the potential iceberg that is Saturday’s trip to fourth-placed Milton Keynes Dons, in-form United are, with each passing week, more and more resembling a giant liner that simply refuses to be knocked off course.

Just one more victory, in fact, could be enough to book a return ticket to the second tier – surely a less than arduous task for a team who, in coming from behind to beat Leyton Orient, chalked up a sixth straight win.

Not, of course, that anyone within the Blades camp is going to admit that their nine-month voyage through largely uncharted waters is on the verge of ending in a victory parade.

Captain Doyle, one of United’s goalscorers as the O’s were swept away by a red and white tide in the second half, said: “It was a big result but we are not thinking about anything else other than the three points.

“Nothing has changed in terms of what we need to do and how we approach the run-in.

We just have to keep looking to win the next game and keep on going.

“It is not over, not by a long way. All along – and no matter how tight it has been – we have not concentrated on anyone else but ourselves.

“We have made a point of that. I know everyone keeps talking about the table but all we can control is what we do.

“The one thing I will say is we have a lot of experienced players in the right areas of the pitch. We are probably helping each other through.

“We are not the sort to get caught up in what is happening outside. We are just keeping calm.

“I have been in a run-in before at Leeds (in 2010 when the West Yorkshire club finished second in League One after a late wobble in form) and what nearly messed it up for us was that we didn’t really have the experience.

“We were always concentrating on other teams and what results could happen elsewhere. It never works out like that and it is the worst thing you can do.

“I definitely believe that point has filtered down from the manager. He has never once talked about Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield or MK Dons in any of the team-talks.

“He just talks about us and what we can do differently. That is the one thing we haven’t allowed to creep in, worrying about anyone else.

“Against Orient, we went 1-0 down and it got a bit edgy. But I knew we would get chances and would be able to take advantage.”

Doyle’s confidence that United would recover from falling behind to a 12th-minute strike by Kevin Lisbie was surely down to the heights the south Yorkshire club have hit this season rather than anything that was happening out on the pitch at the time.

In the opening 40 minutes, for instance, Orient were firmly in control against a home side who looked strangely out of sorts.

Lisbie’s opener had come as a result of a lapse in concentration by the United defence that allowed the veteran striker to latch on to a long punt forward by goalkeeper Jamie Jones and fire past Steve Simonsen.

Before the first half was over, the Blades had endured a few more hairy moments as Lisbie dragged a shot wide, David Mooney’s looping effort landed on top of the net with Simonsen back-pedalling and Dean Cox somehow managed to drill an effort wide from eight yards out.

Cox’s miss, in particular, was a let-off and one United capitalised on just before the break when Lee Williamson beat Jones after being found by Ched Evans.

Buoyed to be level, despite being distinctly second best for long periods, the Blades came out after the interval in determined mood.

The breakthrough came nine minutes after the restart courtesy of a quick break that saw Kevin McDonald and Evans combine to find Doyle on the edge of the area.

Four days earlier, the former Leeds United midfielder had netted Sheffield United’s fifth goal at Rochdale with a thunderous drive and the confidence clearly generated by that strike led to Doyle letting fly once again.

The gamble proved worthwhile as the ball arrowed into the bottom corner.

Any hopes Orient had of launching their own fightback were then dealt a huge blow just before the hour when left-back Ryan Dickson was dismissed for an ugly lunge at Williamson.

O’s manager Russell Slade had no complaints with referee Tony Bates awarding the red card, admitting: “I felt let down by that one.

“It was a ridiculous decision by my player (to attempt the tackle) and I shan’t be defending him.”

Orient, to their credit, kept going in that final half-hour or so with Slade’s decision not to sacrifice an attacker to make up for the deficit in numbers ensuring the Blades were unable to rest easy until Evans made it 3-1 seven minutes from time.

Again, it was a neat move as Chris Porter and Ryan Flynn combined to find Evans, who took his tally for the season to 35 with a trademark finish that leaves United surely on the verge of promotion.