Stevenage v Sheffield United: Lowton intent on playing his part to help end Blades’ poor play-off record

Matt Lowton win a tackle
Matt Lowton win a tackle
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FIVE attempts. Five failures. Sheffield United do not exactly boast the best success rate in the play-offs.

Over the last 24 years, Burnley, Wolves, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and Bristol City have all inflicted agony on the Blades.

Tonight, they will embark on a sixth play-off venture with an away trip to Stevenage.

Blades supporters could be forgiven for hiding their eyes until this latest ordeal is over.

Defender Matt Lowton, however, is ready to meet the challenge head on. All records, he says, are there to be broken.

Lowton, 22, was still a youth team player when the club last suffered heartbreak in the play-offs three years ago. He was only a twinkle in his father’s eye when the Blades lost to Bristol City in 1988.

As the Blades sank to a Wembley final defeat against Burnley, Lowton was watching the action on a TV set in Hungary along with other youngsters who had been loaned out to Ferencvaros.

His time in Eastern Europe played a key role in his footballing education.

Apart from mixing it with international players and competing for domestic honours, there was the hostility of Hungarian crowds to deal with.

Whatever happens in the play-offs should be far less intimidating.

“The things I saw over there, made me realise how much football actually means to some people,” Lowton recalled. “In one game, we were 3-1 down after 70 minutes and the game was called off because the fans decided to set fire to the stand. They also chucked seats onto the pitch and the players would get rushed back into the dressing rooms for two or three hours while the riot police calmed everyone down.

“It was a real eye-opener for a teenager but I think I grew up over there as a result.”

Lowton made his Blades debut the following season and has now been a first-team regular for two years.

His performances have sparked talk of interest from Championship clubs with both Ipswich Town and Cardiff City monitoring his progress.

If the Blades can only smash their play-off hoodoo, however, Lowton will be able to move to the second tier next season with the Blades.

“I suppose the club’s play-off record is a concern. We have never even scored in a play-off final,” he said. “But I always think that things like that are there to be broken. Hopefully, we can be the team that puts on a great performance in the play-offs and wins promotion.

“We are confident that we can go to Stevenage and get a positive result and then, hopefully, get through to Wembley in the second leg at Bramall Lane.”

The Blades had been firmly on course to win automatic promotion until three games ago when the imprisonment of leading goalscorer Ched Evans for rape coincided with a dip in results that allowed arch rivals Sheffield Wednesday to snatch second spot instead.

Stevenage enter the play-offs on the back of a 14-game unbeaten run which included a 2-2 draw with the Blades two weeks ago

“It does help if you can go into these games on form but the next two, possibly three, games are like Cup finals really,” said Lowton.

“Obviously, we were all disappointed not to get automatic promotion but everyone was right back on it when we came in for training this week.

“The play-offs are something I have never done before so it’s definitely exciting,” he added. “It would be nice for this Sheffield United team to get to Wembley, be the first to score there, and the first to get promoted via a play-off.

“Of course, I have also seen the heartache it brings if you lose but, hopefully, this can be the time we get to Wembley and win.”

Having played Stevenage only recently, there should be few surprises for either side tonight at the Lamex Stadium.

Lowton says the Blades are going there for a first leg victory but admits that it is equally important not to lose.

“A draw would not be disastrous,” he said. “We have to go there and make sure the tie is in our hands when we get back to Bramall Lane (on Monday night).

“We don’t want to go there and be too gung-ho but we are also positive that we can beat Stevenage. The gaffer (Danny Wilson) has been telling the full-backs to get forward all season. We have worked a bit on things defensively this week, covering each other and the midfielders sitting in.

“At our place, Stevenage showed that they are a dangerous side and they have some very good players. At the start of the season, I don’t think many people expected them to be where they are now. That’s credit to them but I think we are stronger than them. Hopefully, we can prove that over the two legs.

“We will be under more pressure than Stevenage but we have been under a lot of pressure all season to win games and we have done it most of the time. It helps to be under pressure then you can’t relax because you feel you have to prove to people that the pressure is in the right place.”

Althogh Blades captain Michael Doyle banned talk of Wembley earlier this week, Chesterfield-born Lowton admits that a trip to the national stadium will be an incentive to all players.

“Promotion is the ultimate motivation but playing at Wembley is a childhood dream for most footballers,” he shrugged.

“As a local lad, it would be great to do that with Sheffield United and win.”