WHAT a place to win; but what a way to lose.
Sheffield United’s Play-Off woes continue for another season at least, after a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Huddersfield Town at Wembley.
It was United’s second defeat under the arch at the new Wembley, to go with other Play-Off losses at the old national stadium and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Their dismal record doesn’t make pleasant reading; fifteen years. Four finals. Four defeats. Not one goal scored.
History was certainly not on United’s side, as dozens of coaches snaked down the M1 towards the capital.
The attendance was never in danger of troubling Wembley’s 90,000 capacity - officially 52,100 fans converged under the arch - but what both sides perhaps lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in noise.
The roar when Neill Collins dispatched his spot-kick in the shoot-out, which was also United’s first strike, reverberated impressively around the national stadium. Then when Town missed their first three, United’s name was seemingly etched on the Play-Off Final trophy.
But that was before the often-mentioned ‘Footballing Gods’ intervened, and a club which was relegated against-all-odds in 1994; lost two semi-finals and a Play-Off Final in 2003 and threw away their Premiership status in 2007 should probably have known better.
Lee Williamson and Andy Taylor, two out-of-contract players who may have played their last game for United, both missed from 12 yards.
Matt Lowton, who could soon attract admiring glances from clubs higher up the footballing food-chain, couldn’t beat Alex Smithies either.
But where there is life, there is hope and United’s travelling red-and-white army watched penalty after penalty coolly taken under the scorching London heat.
But that promotion dream so quickly turned to an all-too-familiar nightmare when, after all other 20 players left on the field had taken their penalties, it was the turn of the goalkeepers.
Smithies just about squeezed the ball past Simonsen, and then the stadium fell eerily quiet.
United’s often-maligned shot-stopper stepped up to the mark with the look of a man with the world on his shoulders, and blazed the ball over.
Sinking into the hallowed Wembley turf, the veteran must have been wishing that it would consume him.
Wilson, like many of his players, absolved Simonsen of all blame during the post-match inquest; although the goalkeeper later told reporters that the defeat “feels like all his fault”.
But without the former Everton and Stoke goalkeeper, who wants to stay at Bramall Lane and “put things right for the fans”, the final wouldn’t have even reached penalties.
A string of fine saves denied Town’s Peter Clarke and Alan Lee during normal time.
Football can be so cruel at times; United were so near, yet ultimately so far.