WITH its claustrophobic confines and raucous crowd, the Lamex Stadium can be one of League One’s most intimidating grounds.
But, having cut his professional teeth in Hungarian football, where poison and venom abound, Matthew Lowton is unlikely to be fazed by anything he encounters during tonight’s play-off semi-final first leg at Stevenage.
“I can remember one game where we had to go off because our fans had set fire to the stands. They were very hostile,” Lowton, the former Ferencvaros defender, said.
“We were losing 3-1 and the whole place just went up.
“One bad result and they’d try and get the game called-off.
“But it made me appreciate what it was like to play in front of a big crowd.
“You couldn’t relax for a minute.
“I was still a young lad and it was my first time away from home too.
“Looking back, going out there made me a man.”
Lowton’s recollections of events during that Soproni Liga clash with Diosgyor are terrifying enough.
But the actual picture of what happened inside the Stadion Albert Florian three years ago is even bleaker.
Riot police were forced to disperse a crowd hell bent on destruction while Craig Short, making his debut as manager, would later receive doctored pictures of himself with a hatchet embedded in his head through the post.
Par for the course, Ron Reid, Short’s assistant, told The Star last night.
“The Ferencvaros fans are very supportive of their team but every time you go out onto the pitch they expect you to win,” he said.
Little wonder that Lowton, who has matured into Sheffield United’s first-choice right-back following his loan spell in Budapest, is ready to embrace the weight of expectation being placed upon the shoulders of Danny Wilson’s side ahead of this evening’s encounter in Hertfordshire.
“We are probably under a little bit more pressure than Stevenage but we’ve been under pressure all season,” Lowton said.
“That’s no bad thing. It’s good to have pressure.
“It keeps you on your toes and makes sure you stay focused.”
Despite failing to win either of their previous two meetings with Stevenage - a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane nearly a fortnight ago effectively handed Sheffield Wednesday the runners-up berth behind leaders Charlton - Lowton said: “Without be
ing disrespectful to their previous manager (Graham Westley), I think Stevenage pass the ball a lot more under their new one (Gary Smith).
“At least that’s how it seemed when they came to our place recently. They’re a good side but we are too.”
“We’ve got a lot of experience in our team and that’s been a massive help.
“At Exeter last week we came within a kick of winning the match despite playing for most of it with 10 men and we’ve got to show the same sort of character again.
“People like Neill Collins and Richard Cresswell are extremely helpful.
“They don’t rant and rave but it’s just the little things they say to you.
“The right words at the right time.
“You listen to what they say and then something just clicks.”
Lowton was still plying his trade in Central Europe when United were beaten by Burnley in the 2009 Championship play-off final at Wembley.
relegated from the division 23 months later, they must now break their duck in end-of-season knock-outs at the sixth attempt to join their arch-rivals in the second tier next term.
Dismissing claims that miserable record will cast a shadow over United’s efforts against opponents who finished three places and 17 points behind them in the table, Lowton said: “As far as I’m concerned records are there to be broken.
“I watched the last play-off final on television with a couple of United lads who were also out in Hungary at the time but I’ve never actually been involved in the play-offs myself.
“Hopefully they’ll be exciting in the right way.
“Getting promotion at Wembley is the motivation and playing there is every child’s dream so that’s why we’ll be giving everything against Stevenage.
“A few of my mates are getting a bit carried away about that but my family are great and they help me keep my feet on the ground.
“They’re always there for me.
“My dad always talks sense.
“Promotion would mean everything so that’s what we’ll be trying to achieve.”
Teams and ref
STEVENAGE (possible): Day, Lascelles, Roberts, Ashton, Laird, Bostwick, Byrom, Wilson, Reid, Freeman, Agyemang (4-4-2).
UNITED (possible): Simonsen, Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Taylor, Williamson, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn, Cresswell, Porter (4-4-2).
Tony Bates: From Staffordshire, Bates averages 2.51 cautions per game this season while he has issued only two red cards, fewer than the vast majority of his counterparts in Football League competition. The first of those came when he dismissed Leyton Orient’s Ryan Dickson at Bramall Lane last month.