Simonsen believes clean sheet has put wind in Blades sails

CLEAN sheets have been thin on the ground during Sheffield United’s push for promotion but Friday night’s shut-out at Stevenage could yet be priceless.

The Blades had kept only two in 17 games prior to their trip to the Lamex Stadium but held on for a goalless draw in the first leg of the League One play-off semi-final.

Goalkeeper Steve Simonsen tipped a 25-yard effort from Craig Reid onto the crossbar during the game but it was the only real scare for the Blades.

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Reflecting on events, Simonsen said: “If we had been offered a clean sheet before the game we would have taken it with both hands. It was a huge positive.

“Stevenage will now see that first leg as a missed opportunity. They really wanted to get amongst us and put us under pressure but we passed the test.

“We had conceded a few sloppy goals of late, some of them unfortunate, but we had also scored a few. On Friday, the tables turned and we kept a clean sheet but couldn’t get one at the opposite end.

“Hopefully, the save I made will be vital – it enabled us to keep a clean sheet,” he added. “I said in the build-up that I would be quite happy to be a virtual spectator and, to be fair, I was – apart from that moment.

“I will take another 90 minutes like that on Monday and, hopefully, it will be good enough. Another clean sheet at home and we will be close to getting what we want.”

Simonsen feels the Blades are due a change of fortune after the agony of missing out on automatic promotion to rivals Sheffield Wednesday.

The loss of three strikers – Ched Evans, James Beattie and Will Hoskins – in the final month was a massive blow and there have been games won and lost in closing minutes that shaped the destiny of the season.

“I think we are due a bit of luck,” said Simonsen. “Lots of things have gone against us in the last four weeks or so but we have put them to the back of our minds and got on with the job.

“We have stuck to our guns, stuck together as a team, and we are pleased with the way the first leg went.

“Hopefully, at home, we can play more of the football we are accustomed to. It’s level-pegging at the moment but we have home advantage now with 30,000 fans behind us. Hopefully, we can finish the job.

“It will be one hell of an occasion but we have worked hard all season and this is our reward. We are 90 minutes from Wembley now and the play-off final. We have to make sure all the hard work is not undone.”

Stevenage chief is ready to take tie to penalty shootout

Stevenage manager Gary Smith is prepared for the possibility of penalties tonight in the return leg of their League One play-off semi-final at Bramall Lane.

The former manager of Major League Soccer side Colorado Rapids dismisses any suggestion Stevenage have blown their chances of a third successive promotion after a goalless draw in the first leg.

“We’re well and truly in this,” said the 43-year-old, who replaced previous manager Graham Westley in January.

“We had a frustrating night and one that I feel saw Sheffield United pay a lot of respect to us.

“They defended very well, they were professional in their approach and when they had the ball, despite not creating many opportunities, they managed possession well.

“They made us work, but it’s now 0-0 at half-time. We scored two goals at Bramall Lane two weeks ago so there’s no concern in our minds that we can go and get a result.”

Stevenage, who have gone from the Blue Square Bet Premier Division to League One in three seasons, drew 2-2 with the Blades at Bramall Lane last month and beat them 2-1 in the league at home in November.

Smith admitted he had to lift his players after Friday’s stalemate, but added: “That’s testimony to how far this group has come. We’re fighting for a Wembley place here and this is not going to be easy.

“Whatever side we put out, we’ll give Sheffield United a fantastic game up there. We’ll take it as far as we can and if that means penalties, we’ll go to penalties.

“The pressure is on them to make something happen now. We scored twice there two weeks ago so there’s no fear from us. Ultimately, we were disappointed to have not made clear-cut chances (on Friday) and not made the most of one or two openings. But it has come to something when we say a draw against Sheffield United is disappointing.”