Down but not out, writes James Shield.
That was the message emanating from the Redtooth Academy when Sheffield United, less than 12 hours after suffering a controversial defeat in the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final against Swindon Town, reported back for training yesterday.
The erratic performance of referee Darren Bond, and Nigel Clough’s angry response, might yet be subject to further scrutiny ahead of the return at the County Ground in 48 hours time.
But Kieron Freeman, scorer of United’s goal during a contest his manager felt had hinged on “four” incorrect decisions, is adamant they can still progress.
“Without a doubt, we are more than confident,” the defender said following Thursday’s contest. “The result apart, that was one of the best performances we’ve had.
“There were lads flying into tackles out there and giving everything. It’s one goal. There are no away goals.
“Like the gaffer has told us, score one, then score another. Score as many as you possibly can.”
Like Clough, Freeman expressed reservations about Bond’s reading of a game which saw Jamie Murphy denied two penalties and Matt Done harshly punished on two occasions after his second goal of the season had edged United ahead. Sam Ricketts and Nathan Byrne, with almost the last kick of the game, replied for the visitors but, despite failing to establish the lead their display warranted, Freeman insisted United scored an important psychological victory.
“I think we’ll go into the game exactly as we did this one,” he said. “We came out and they didn’t expect us to hit them as hard as we did.
“They’ve annihilated teams at times this season. They were nowhere near that against us. You could tell in the game, they were expecting it to be easier than it was.”
“The boys are disappointed with the result but not the performance,” Freeman added. “That was good. We had a lot of chances and, on another day, we’d have been two or three nil up at half-time.
Over the course of the game, we had and created far more.”
Done, who appeared as a second-half substitute after overcoming a series of fitness issues, is expected to be handed a prominent role in Wiltshire after seeing a ‘goal’ disallowed for a foul moments after entering the fray before being refused a clear cut advantage by Bond while the score was locked at 1-1.
“Doney has had a niggling injury,” Freeman said. “But he has a different dimension, as you can see, to his game.
“He’s got that pace down the flanks and he lets (Jamie) Murph(y) come into the hole more, work those little pockets and run at the back four.”