Two teams heading in opposite directions met at Bramall Lane for the final match-day of the 2016-17 League 1 season. Sheffield United had been crowned champions a few weeks ago and were looking to achieve a century of points for the first time in their history. Their opponents, Chesterfield, had already been relegated to League 2 and were bottom of the division.
So on paper, this should’ve been an easy home win, but football is played on grass, not paper and what we witnessed a very eventful match.
Before I entered the ground I knew there was going to be a big crowd, as the special edition programmes had sold out an hour before kick-off. What greeted me when I walked down the gangway was a wall of noise and a near-full Bramall Lane. Just over 31,000 were in attendance, with fans from across the country making the trip just to see us lift the League 1 trophy. Champions or not, that is a magnificent crowd.
The game got underway with hundreds of balloons floating over the kop and Chesterfield giving the blades players a guard of honour as they walked out of the tunnel. Chris Wilder made just one change from his previous line-up at MK Dons, with the unbeaten Jake Wright returning to the side in place of James Wilson.
United started well with Leon Clarke coming close to his 7th goal in 6 games by hitting the post from a tight angle within the first 15 minutes. Chesterfield were never going to make it easy and had a good effort saved by the League 1 Goalkeeper of the Season, Simon Moore, shortly after. We didn’t have long to wait for the opening, though, as on 18 minutes, a real scramble in the box let the ball fall to Kieron Freeman who tapped in from close range. That was his eleventh goal of an incredible season for the wing-back.
36 minutes in and United would hit the post once more from a snap-shot by Billy Sharp. The Blades captain was fresh from his 200th goal and looking to get his thirtieth of the season. But then came a real moment of madness….
Just before the half-time whistle, Chesterfield won a penalty after Simon Moore took out Reece Mitchell and Dennis slotted the spot-kick home. To add insult to injury, Clarke had just been substituted, this was a real kick in the teeth.
When the players returned from the dressing room for the second half, Chesterfield looked the better side, winning a corner and seeing a good volley go just wide. But after 60 minutes, United had regained their composure, Samir Carruthers showing his quality yet again by laying the ball on a plate for Sharp to head home. That was the magic 30 for the skipper and it made it 2-1 to the Blades.
But United let Chesterfield in again just a few minutes later after a loose ball fell to Paul McGinn just outside the box and he fired a shot low and hard into the bottom corner of the net. But then Chesterfield showed why they’re going down…
Sharp retrieved the ball to take the kick-off quickly but Dan Gardner prevented him doing so. This was clear obstruction and after a physical confrontation the Chesterfield man was going for an early bath. What an idiot.
United were now dominating the match but despite a few more Sharp effort, Chesterfield were hanging in there. That was until the 82nd minute when Daniel Lafferty fired a low shot into the net. Stuckmann probably should’ve saved it but we didn’t care.
The final score was 3-2 and over 30,000 blades fans celebrated the century that we had achieved after being bottom of the league after 5 games. Stupendous!
When we were officially promoted I said that I wasn’t bothered if we won the title or not but I was dead wrong. This is the first time United have lifted a trophy of any kind in my lifetime and shortly after the full-time whistle, the magnitude of what we had achieved hit me. They say that a man’s tears are much more meaningful than a woman’s and the ones that I shed that day meant everything.
During six years in League 1, we’ve had our star striker thrown in jail, play-off heartbreak, two cup semi-finals, six managers and every result under the sun but I don’t think that even the most optimistic blade could’ve foreseen what has happened this campaign.
The players, the backroom staff and their families went on a parade around the ground thanking every unitedite for their support this season. As I’ve previously said on my blog, I’m looking forward to next season and I couldn’t put it any better than Yazz did; “The only way is up.”