Preview: Stevenage v Sheffield United – The Road To Wembley begins

Tonight sees the start of the League One play-offs and for Stevenage and Sheffield United now is the time to perform as they have throughout the season.

Stevenage come into the game unbeaten in their last six, while Sheffield United head to The Lamex Stadium without a win in their last three, also, without a win since losing star man Ched Evans due to reasons we will all be aware of.

The Blades will no doubt be disappointed to have missed out on automatic promotion to fierce city rivals Sheffield Wednesday. As a Unitedite myself, I feel I speak for many when I say that it was thoroughly disappointing and antagonising to have let our guard down for the last three games having seemingly had 2nd place wrapped up for a good few months.

But nevertheless, this is the time when we need to dust ourselves down and come back fighting in order to gain that prized spot at Wembley, and hopefully back in the Championship. In my opinion, the fans’ role in these next two fixtures will be pivotal in deciding the final outcome. Positivity is the key Blades, positivity.

On the other hand, Stevenage I would imagine will be coming in full of confidence after sealing their playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. Also, having beat United at home earlier on in the season (2-1), and picked up a point at Bramall Lane just two weeks ago (2-2), they know that a repeat of these results would obviously give them an aggregate lead, and win them the tie.

Stevenage 6th: 73 points

Last six: D W W W D W

Team news: No new injuries or suspensions for Boro will probably leave ‘gaffer’ Gary Smith starting with their usual eleven on Friday night.

Key player: Luke Freeman

You may or may not remember (largely depending on whether or not you read it…), but I chose Freeman as Stevenage’s “key player” the last time I had to write this article, and after the game I was only more convinced that this was correct. After putting out a fine performance at the Lane, Freeman will be hoping to replicate this kind of ‘match-winning’ form the second time around, and probably the third too.

Sheffield United 3rd: 90 points

Last six: W W W L D D

Team news: United will be without striker James Beattie for both legs after he picked up a red card at Exeter last week. Other than that, I would imagine them to be fielding the regular eleven that have picked up 90 points this season, a great achievement by anyone’s standards.

Key player: Richard Cresswell

Should he be starting, I think ‘Cressy’ will be key to how United perform. He has been a real workhorse this season, and his hard work often goes unseen by the majority, but for me he has the potential to influence many others’ attitudes both on and off the pitch. At the grand old age of 35, to still be putting the work that he does in is typical of a ‘model professional’. I hope this desire of his can rub off on our other players, and drive us forward to a vital first leg victory.

You can follow me on Twitter: @Callum0312