League One play-offs: Swindon survive Blades comeback in 10-goal thriller
Swindon Town will play Preston North End in the League One play-off final at Wembley, after drawing their semi-final second leg 5-5 with Sheffield United to sneak past the Blades 7-6 on aggregate. Coral make the West Country club 6/5 outsiders for promotion.
It’s an eighth failure in this end of season competition for Steel City side United, who fell 3-0 behind on the night inside 18 minutes courtesy of a Ben Gladwin brace and Michael Smith strike.
Swiftly atoning for his missed penalty in the first leg, versatile Robins player Gladwin volleyed in a stunning opener when Craig Alcock’s clearing header fell to him.
Not even 10 minutes had elapsed before the Blades fell 4-1 behind on aggregate, when Bob Harris’ poor defending to a Sam Ricketts cross allowed Nathan Byrne to toss the ball back in for Gladwin to tap in a second.
It got worse for Nigel Clough’s team. Kieron Freeman’s abysmal attempt to get rid of another Byrne ball in allowed Smith to pick his spot, and extend Swindon’s advantage to 3-0 (5-1).
United hit back immediately, however, with Nathan Thompson diverting Jamie Murphy’s shot past his own keeper when Marc McNulty found his fellow Blades forward.
There was a fifth goal on the night before half-time when Chris Basham nodded in Harris’ delivery, up from left back, with the visitors now trailing the second leg 3-2 and 5-3 on aggregate.
Robins coach Mark Cooper lost Thompson to a hamstring problem, but the hosts went further in front before the hour when Smith scored his second from the penalty spot. Jermaine Hylton had been brought down by opposition keeper Mark Howard, leaving referee Keith Hill no option.
Clough threw on United loanee Steven Davies for the final 30 minutes to offer a more physical threat, and it didn’t take the Blackpool-owned player long to make an impact. Harris again assisted down the left flank, crossing for his former Bloomfield Road buddy to head home.
At 4-3 (and 6-4) down, the Blades slipped again when Swindon caught them on the counter. Jonathan Obika cut inside two defenders and slotted beyond Howard with what proved to be the tie’s decisive strike.
Robins number one Wes Foderingham made key saves from Davies and fellow United sub Che Adams but, on the latter occasion two minutes before stoppage time, Matt Done followed up during pinball in the hosts’ box to set up a grandstand finish.
Young Adams made seven (which turned into nine) additional minutes nervy for Swindon when he cut infield from the right and rifled in to bring the Blades level at 5-5 on the night, but ultimately falling short on aggregate.
Rarely has there been a crazier game of football and, although Clough and co were unlucky not to advance, play-off final opponents Preston (odds-on 4/6 promotion favourites) will be licking their lips as they prepare to face a leaky Robins defence at Wembley on May 24th.