BRAMALL Lane legend Keith Edwards has acknowledged Sheffield United have struggled to come to terms with losing Ched Evans and feels things have gone “slightly flat” at the club.
Evans was jailed for rape last month and, in the Wales international’s absence, the Blades failed to pick up maximum points in any of their final three league matches, allowing Sheffield Wednesday to pinch the second automatic promotion place.
Before being sentenced to five years in prison, Evans notched 35 goals, 29 in the league, and made over double figures in assists in the club’s promotion charge.
Former Blades striker Edwards, the scorer of nearly 150 league goals during spells in both the 70s and 80s, has challenged Danny Wilson’s deflated squad to re-group and to comeback strongly in the League One play-offs.
The away match of their two-legged semi-final clash with Stevenage takes place on Friday, in front of the Sky cameras, kick-off 7.45pm.
Edwards, now a radio summariser, told The Star: “I’m fearful the team are slightly flat for obvious reasons.
“But you can’t sulk in this game. They have to pick themselves up and prepare for the play-offs.
“It will be a tough, tight tie with Stevenage but we have to bounce back and show some character and get back to the level we set ourselves several months ago.”
Although Edwards accepts
the club have found life hard without Evans, he still feels United possess the quality to gain promotion.
He said: “We are missing a vital player but we have still got match-winners. Kevin McDonald and Michael Doyle are very capable in the middle and we have got goals from the flanks.
“Lee Williamson scored his 13th goal of the season at Exeter and that’s a good return from midfield. There is no doubt we have missed a very influential player in Evans. In most teams
who get promoted, there is always a goal-scorer who stands out. I think it has been difficult for the guys to bounce back (from losing Evans).
“It is very easy to say we are missing our best player but we haven’t created as many chances as we would have liked. Everybody else has to step up and take responsibility.”
United have been in the play-offs five times, losing on all five occasions. It is a dismal record but Edwards is refusing to be downbeat about their chances of going up.
“We haven’t really finished the season badly in many respects,” said Edwards.
“We won six, drew three and lost one of our final 10 games and that is promotion form. Unfortunately the two draws and defeat came at the wrong time.
“That is something we have to accept. Although we have finished the season well, the last couple of games haven’t been our greatest performances.
“We can’t keep going into the play-offs and not winning. We have got an opportunity to put it right now.”
Stevenage have proven to be a bogey side for our two Sheffield clubs this season.
The Hertfordshire team, chasing a third successive promotion, beat Sheffield Wednesday twice and took four points off Sheffield United.
Stevenage saw off United 2-1 at the Lamex Stadium last November. Ched Evans cancelled out Mark Roberts’ first-half opener before Scott Laird converted a late penalty to seal the victory.
Joel Byrom and Laird put Boro 2-0 up in the reverse fixture a month ago only for substitute Richard Cresswell and Matthew Lowton to force a draw.
Stevenage have lost just three times on their own patch this season.