"It’s a marathon, not a sprint."
We’ve all heard and used that quote before, and after seven months of our nine month season, we are into the last few weeks of this long, hard League One race. To use the marathon analogy again, after a very slow start and from being right at the back we quickly upped our pace, moved through the field, did the hard miles along the course and got amongst the leaders.
We’ve been tripped up and stumbled a few times along the way, but we recovered quickly and powered on again. After Tuesday’s superb win at Oxford, we’re now firmly clear of the chasing play-off pack, and the finishing line, although not quite yet in sight, is inside the stadium up ahead and getting closer with every stride!
The Blades are in the middle of a run of three away matches, which should have represented a tricky testing section of this marathon course, but as it’s turned out the only thing really tricky or testing about the two games so far has been the state of the playing surfaces. After a decent draw at Rochdale we went to Oxford and actually played them off their own pitch, even though it resembled a cabbage patch in places.
Disregard the scoreline, and even the fact that we were one down at half-time, because it doesn’t tell the whole story. We totally controlled the majority of the game and I now think we really can look forward to gathering more momentum for the last remaining matches. In fact I’ve believed and been saying for months that we will maintain our form and win this promotion race, so don’t rule out being clear of the pack as we start the final lap, and wouldn’t it be nice to enter the finishing straight waving and smiling to the crowds!
It’s also around this stage of a season that it becomes important not just how many games you have left, but who you are actually playing. All sides just below us still have to play each other and we can sit back on Saturday and enjoy either Fleetwood or Bolton taking points off the other.
What’s more, in a few weeks time Bolton and Scunthorpe will do exactly the same. For some teams in the push for a top two place, the games will also simply run out. Of course, this is assuming that Chris Wilder’s Blades won't completely blow up in the latter stages of this race, and far from entering the final lap full of running, actually run out of steam and be staggering and stumbling over the line! We’ve maintained such an impressive pace so far, I genuinely can’t see that happening. Honestly, can you?
It also won’t happen because as I mentioned above, we’ve done the “hard miles” already. Not only that but we’ve done them against the supposedly harder teams as well. In fact of our last ten games, eight are against teams in the lower half of the table, including all the teams in the bottom five! The only two teams in the top half that we play are Bradford and Millwall, and although they will be a tough test, we are at home to both, and as such I fully expect us to win.
Sky TV have chosen to screen the Bradford game live from Bramall Lane, too. What a day that promises to be! A local derby in front of a sell-out crowd on a Bank Holiday Monday in the third-to-last game of our season, and in our marathon promotion race we’ll be inside the stadium and on that final lap. The crowd will be on their feet roaring us on and the team will be at full speed and striding out for glory.
If we maintain our form and our points-gaining pace, we’ll come round the final bend very soon, in the clear and ready to hit that home straight... and we’ll ALL be smiling and waving along the way! UTB.
Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield, S18. @ManorHouse_S18
Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev