Starting to believe

Sheffield United's Chris Porter celebrates scoring his sides first goal of the game during the npower Football League One Play Off Semi Final Second Leg match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday May 14, 2012. See PA Story SOCCER Sheff Utd. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.
Sheffield United's Chris Porter celebrates scoring his sides first goal of the game during the npower Football League One Play Off Semi Final Second Leg match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday May 14, 2012. See PA Story SOCCER Sheff Utd. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

BLADES fans, the mask is slipping. You are starting to believe again. . .!

And sometime soon the brave face of your club, battling against a series of potentially crippling setbacks, will also be uncovered. Whether in triumph or defeat, true feelings will surface on the extreme difficulty Sheffield United have endured on a harrowing run-in to a season in which those in charge have done just about everything right.

Currently, that stretches to making light - publicly - of the problems that turned a carnival into a street fight. Danny Wilson has screened off the pressures, shielded his players and talked only of the positives. That’s an experienced and able manager for you.

But we can all guess at the turmoil and anxiety that must have been bubbling underneath. Some of the circumstances scarcely evoke sympathy; nor should they and none has been sought. The top goalscorer jailed, another star striker suspended for recklessness and a third, Richard Cresswell - rank bad luck this time - ruled out by an eye infection after bravely carrying a damaged shoulder.

So to reach the Wembley play-off final is a testament to the mental strength of the squad in great adversity and their ability to adapt to a lone striker system that fittingly saw Chris Porter emerge as the late matchwinner against Stevenage.

Now go right to the top to find an owner whose investment in what happens next could not be higher, either financially or personally. Win promotion and Kevin McCabe’s commitment will reap a richly deserved reward. Lose out and he will again bear the almost inescapable burden of propping up the club amid another round of tough and unpopular decisions.

Yet there has been no sign of queasiness from inside the club; only from those many floating fans who stayed away from the second leg to leave a pitifully poor attendance of just 21,000, swelled by a healthy away following. Wilson had talked enthusiastically pre-match of having 30,000 backers.

There are, of course, historical reasons . . . numbering five unsuccessful play-off campaigns. A sense of fatalism, combined with recent crushing events, has filled the air. Supporters have saved themselves further punishment by fearing the worst.

It’s not courting controversy, only stating fact, to say that Unitedites haven’t really joined the competition for the best supported club in Sheffield. But a timely mood swing occurred at around 9.40pm on Monday. With almost 40,000 Wembley tickets on sale, the Blades can be expected to rise to the challenge.

What lies ahead is the prospect of a double promotion party for the steel city. Any Blade still struggling to believe might find some faith in the law of averages. But you sense that the indomitable spirit displayed by both Sheffield clubs will add a glorious finishing flourish to what has been a truly momentous season.