Swindon 5-5 Blades - report
(Swindon win 7-6 on aggregate)
Another season at Sky Bet League One level looms after play-off luck again failed to shine on the Blades.
In a bizarre semi-final second leg at Swindon on Monday, United could not fully recover from giving the home side a 3-0 lead inside 18 minutes, despite playing their part in a ten-goal thriller at the County Ground which threatened to go all the way to extra-time in an unbelievable finish.
A deflection from a Jamie Murphy shot and headers from Chris Basham and Steven Davies kept the game alive before further efforts from Matt Done and Che Adams drew United level on a pulsating night of action, before the Blades finally suffered a cruel 7-6 aggregate defeat.
Nigel Clough made three changes for the second-leg encounter at the County Ground. Making his first start since January, Craig Alcock filled the void of the injured John Brayford at centre-back, whilst Matt Done and Marc McNulty replaced Jason Holt and Steven Davies respectively, both of whom dropped to the bench.
The Blades suffered the worst possible start when after just four minutes, Swindon added to their first-leg advantage. Kasim picked the ball up in midfield and freed Byrne on the right, his cross was headed away by McEveley, but it only fell to GLADWIN on the edge of the penalty who instinctively half volleyed past Howard into the bottom corner.
At the other end, United's response was almost instant, but after Harris had seen his attempt on goal deflected, Flynn looped his header just over the bar. In the 10th minute though, the Blades evening took another turn against them, left-back Ricketts crossed to the back post and after Harris failed to deal with the danger, Byrne reacted quickest and fed the ball across the six yard box for GLADWIN to tap home.
Despite the concession of two early goals, United still looked a threat going forward, Flynn broke in the middle of the park before Basham and Murphy combined to tee up Harris, but the left-back shot wide from a good position with his weaker right foot.
But in the 18th minute, the Robins struck for a third time and that man Byrne was again involved on the right. His inviting cross was missed by Hylton, but after Freeman failed to clear his lines, SMITH found space to fire in from close range past Howard.
This time United did respond immediately to give themselves hope. A quick free-kick saw Flynn pass to McNulty who in turn played in Murphy and the Scotsman left footed attempt took a favourable deflection off Swindon skipper THOMPSON to completely wrong foot Foderingham at his near post.
The hosts almost regained their three goal advantage on the night in the 28th minute when Luongo stormed into the box, but thankfully for United Alcock did enough to put the Australian international off at the cost of a corner, before Luongo and Kasim overplayed on the counter attack.
As the half hour mark past the Blades could have got another goal back, but after neat build-up play Done could only deflect Basham's flick towards goal over the bar from close range following a good ball in from Flynn. But in the 38th minute the visitors did give themselves further hope of a comeback.
After Byrne and Luongo combined to lose the ball in midfield under pressure from Done, Coutts was instrumental in freeing Harris down the left and from his pinpoint cross BASHAM timed his run into the box perfectly to produce a powerful diving header which beat Foderingham for pace.
As a frantic opening 45 minutes drew to a close, United had shouts for a penalty waved away as Turnball clashed with Alcock from a corner, before Foderingham saved from Harris. As three minutes of injury time were signalled, skipper for the night McEveley was harshly the first name in the book following a tangle with Smith.
The second-half began with United on the front foot, although the visitors failed to get an attempts on target despite a flurry of corners and in the 54th minute McNulty had a clear sight of goal, but he blazed over from inside the box after being played in by Flynn.
Moments later the tie swung firmly in the favour of Swindon as referee Hill pointed to the penalty spot after he adjudged Howard had fouled Hylton who had latched on to Foderingham's long punt forward. The Blades goalkeeper, who was booked for the foul, dived the right way but SMITH struck his penalty firmly enough to see it hit the back of the net.
Clough reacted by introducing Steven Davies in place of McNulty, whilst Rodgers, son of Liverpool manager Brendan, replaced Hylton for Town who were still adjusting to the loss of Thompson through injury. Within four minutes of his arrival DAVIES gave the Blades hope again as he headed home another inch perfect delivery from Harris to reduce the deficit on aggregate back to two goals.
Coutts became the next Blade to be booked, despite appearing to win the ball in a challenge with Byrne. Swindon's number three then went down very easily under a challenge from Harris and from the resulting free-kick on the edge of the box Kasim hit the wall.
Referee Hill then booked Rodgers and Alcock in quick succession, before Swindon scored the eighth goal of the night in the 84th minute to seemingly extinguish any hopes of a United fightback. Luongo broke through midfield before releasing OBIKA, who cut inside Alcock and calmly slotted past Howard from well inside the area.
Despite needing three goals to force extra-time, the Blades refused to admit defeat and Foderingham produced the save of the night to deny Davies from 12 yards out. From the resulting corner Adams then saw an effort blocked as Nigel Clough's players kept believing the impossible was possible.
They were rewarded with two minutes remaining when DONE scored on the rebound after Coutts and Adams and seen shots on goal saved and blocked respectively. Just over 60 seconds later the scores were level on the night, when ADAMS scored a wonderful sole goal, weaving his way around his marker before curling home with his left foot.
Seven minutes of added time were signalled, as Gladwin, Kasim and Byrne were all booked. United were now sensing a remarkable turnaround and Done headed over with Foderingham scrambling under his crossbar. Adams thought he had got his second and United's sixth on the night, but it was disallowed for a foul on Luongo in the build-up.
Ultimately United's attempted comeback against all the odds came up agonisingly short, despite displaying the type of never-say-die attitude that arguably deserved extra-time at the very least.
Swindon: Foderingham, Foderingham, Stephens, Thompson N (Obika 57), Turnbull, Byrne, Kasim, Luongo, Gladwin (Branco 90), Ricketts, Hylton (Rodgers 62), Smith.
Unused: Belford T, Barthram, Marshall, Randall.
Blades: Howard, Alcock, Harris, Basham, Flynn (Adams 84), Murphy, McNulty (S. Davies 60), Done, Coutts, McEveley, Freeman.
Unused: Doyle, B. Davies, McGahey, Turner, Holt.