SHEFFIELD: Evans loss ended Blades bid

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It’s the truth Sheffield United can’t speak - the truth for which no sympathy is sought or due as a dignified club refuses, in the words of chairman Kevin McCabe, to “wallow in self pity.”

But everyone else is at liberty to pinpoint the exact moment when the club’s promotion dream died. And it wasn’t at Wembley last Saturday.

Post mortems on penalties are pointless. The time of sudden death was 36 days earlier with the jailing of a prolific goalscorer.

Danny Wilson and the team-mates Ched Evans left to fight on without him did their best to hide the shellshock and heartache, knowing they could not extract the remotest shred of sympathy from it.

The show had to go on and did. With a recovery spirit that I tipped - wrongly as it transpired - to turn torture into triumph.

Even then, United could hardly have done more and the fates again conspired against a team so deserving of a break. But the loss of this one special player and the circumstances surrounding it could not be surmounted. It was just too big a blow. True, United needed to be a touch bolder to beat Huddersfield and remove the play-off curse. But a loss of bottle? Certainly not; there is a difference.

Colin Montgomerie and a major, Jimmy White and the world snooker crown, Sheffield United and play-off final success. Maybe some things are just not meant to be. It’s why I saw a young bloke in a Blades shirt crying uncontrollably in a pub car park on the outskirts of the city last Saturday.

Yet it’s the nature of the game for football folk - managers, players and fans - to be quick to pick themselves up and dust themselves down. There’s no alternative, is there?

And no time to dwell on the excruciating drama that cruelly cast goalkeeper Steve Simonsen as the fall guy for - of all things - missing a penalty. Simmo, anyone can miss a penalty - just ask Lionel Messi, David Beckham or Chris Waddle - but not everyone can make the saves you did to take it that far.

From the manager to the keeper and right through the squad, everyone should feel proud of their efforts. With one obvious and hugely ironic exception. Next season United will aim to go one better in what should be a less competitive League One.

Wilson fought his corner to keep his best players, allowing that the books would have to be balanced later if the bid fell short. So there should be no outcry if some now leave, a prospect for which every supporter is resigned.

The plain fact is that United have at least five - Harry Maguire, Matt Lowton, Kevin McDonald, Lee Williamson and luckless Wembley inspiration Stephen Quinn - who belong at a higher level.

But can the damage be restricted to losing one or more of the free agents, McDonald, Williamson and James Beattie? A long shot but still possible. United have a few things still going for them here.

One is that there is so little money in the game as wage bills shrink. Two, the Blades remain prominent in size, prestige and support. As such, they stand a better chance than most of keeping and attracting players.

Three, the players concerned are probably on salaries not far below Championship level and, in Quinn’s case, perhaps a notch above. Throw in the wisdom of Maguire and Lowton continuing their development and their genuine feeling for the place - as Quinn’s post-Wembley interviews so touchingly demonstrated - and it’s not a foregone conclusion that any or all will leave.

Yes, there will be major changes at the Lane this summer, not all for the better. But one thing that can be practically guaranteed is that, under a fan-owner and an excellent manager, United will keep body and soul together. You can ask no more.