Sheffield United v Yeovil Town: If we thrive on pressure then we will come out on top, says Robson
The veteran midfielder embarks on his first taste of the Football League play-offs with Sheffield United this evening in the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final against Yeovil, a heavy-duty pressure situation with which the 34-year-old is particularly well versed.
Derbies do not come any bigger than the Old Firm variety, with Robson having sampled his fill of those, while not many third-tier footballers can put an appearance in the knock-out stages of the Champions League on their footballing cv.
The former Celtic player can add an impressive footnote as well; he scored on his Champions League debut in a 3-2 home loss to the mighty Barcelona, who included the likes of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol – with Xavi and Samuel Eto’o not even making the starting XI – in a first leg last-16 clash back in February 2008 in front of over 58,000 fans at Parkhead.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the likes of Robson, Neill Collins and Dave Kitson were the players that Blades caretaker-manager Chris Morgan was indirectly referring to when he spoke this week about the importance of ‘big-game players’ ahead of their first meeting with the Glovers.
Robson, contracted with the Blades until the end of the season and keen to add a Wembley appearance – and a winning one at that – to his considerable footballing resumé, said: “When you are at a football club like Sheffield United, these big games mean as much as when you are with a big club playing in Europe.
“These games are what you look back on in your career. They are big-pressure ones at the time with a lot of pressure on the players to go out and perform. But when you have got a result, it is all worth it.
“They are tough mentally and physically and you have to get yourself right for them.
“You need organisation, work-rate, determination and desire, and I think all these words are what this club is about.
“We need to make sure we do all these things and, with the bit of quality we have in the side, we can hopefully win the game.
“Obviously, it is not going to be easy, but that is our philosophy.”
He added: “There is always a level of expectation at a club this size; there is no getting away from that. That could be an advantage for us with a big fanbase and huge club who expect to be in the next division above or the one above that.
“You play in a big game every second week here because it is a big crowd and club. People should be used to the pressures.
“We know the expectation is there and we will give it our best shot.
“If we get promotion, it will be a great end to the season. We are prepared, ready to go and looking forward to it.
“There is pressure; good pressure. And whoever thrives on it the best will come out on top.
“It is enjoyable as well. It would not be great if we were away on holiday with nothing to play for, would it? We are still fighting and it is in our hands with potentially three huge games.”
It is fair to say that the prevailing mood among many Unitedites ahead of their club’s latest play-off odyssey is not as expectant as it might have been, their wounds having understandably not healed fully following six failures in the end-of-season lottery.
Along with that historic backdrop, there is also more recent events to consider, with the Blades having failed to inject significant momentum into their flagging season ahead of the play-offs.
A lacklustre return of one victory in their past eight league outings and a threadbare return of no goals in their previous three games – with the drought lasting close to 300 minutes – certainly provides ample evidence of that.
But Robson is adamant that history will not prove a millstone to the Blades, while adding that the events of recent weeks – and the whole 46-game league season – do not count a jot either.
All that matters to the Blades players is the next 180-plus minutes or 270-odd hopefully, insists the former Scotland international.
Robson, confident that United’s blend of youth and experience will complement each other and enable the club to prosper in the next two season-defining games, said: “It is a fresh start and we are looking forward to a big couple of games.
“The regular season has gone, finished and in the past. It does not matter any more - what matters is the next two games.
“I also don’t think the recent play-off history means much as you have a lot of players who have not been here in the previous promotion chases or play-off situations.”
“Yes, experienced players can help. But young players are oblivious to what is going on and doesn’t really know the pressure.
“When you get to my age, you know things can go wrong and maybe younger ones don’t and play with a freedom and do not have that fear.
“We have got a good mix and it is one of the best groups I have been involved in.
“Everyone gets on great and works for each other and are all good friends.
“I am hoping to get a promotion on my CV, which would be great. But the more important thing is to get the football club back where they belong. They were so unlucky last year, so let’s do it for everyone associated with the club.”