DANIEL FARKE, boss of pace-setting Norwich City, not only believes Sheffield United will this evening clinch a return to the Premier League, he is not ruling out the prospect of the Blades pipping them for the Championship title.
A United victory against relegated Ipswich Town in a 5.15pm kick-off at Bramall Lane, their penultimate fixture, will leave the Blades six points ahead of third club Leeds United who will have two matches remaining but a vastly inferior goal difference.
But for an unprecedented mathematical miracle, three points today will be enough for United to book their return to the top flight after an absence of 12 years. Currently in second place, they would also leapfrog Norwich, briefly at least, on goal difference. Farke’s side face Blackbrun Rovers in East Anglia minutes later, needing a point to ensure promotion.
“Without any doubt Sheffield United will win the three points this weekend,” said Farke whose side will win the title if they at least draw and United don’t take maximum points. Otherwise the issue would be settled eight days later on the last Sunday of the season. “I don't expect a decision in the title. We are not stupid. We know it takes one point for us but this point is necessary.”
He added: “To be promoted at home would be special. It would be the icing on the cake. It would be a perfect fit, to be at home with our fans, with all the players not in the matchday squad there as well. This whole unity that you can feel in the city, the county and the region. The only problem is in my experience football is never romantic and the picture can never be painted as you want it.”
The German’s fear may be more a case of rallying his team for their big moment. But it is almost inconceivable that United will slip up in front of a full house at the Lane in what amounts to the biggest match there since the turn of the century. Supporters, however, will be sitting on the edge of their seats until the first goal hits the back of the net given the club’s history of so near but yet so far.
If you could choose who to play, however, in a fixture in which the stakes are so high – a guaranteed £190million if United are promoted – the Tractor Boys are perfect opponents. At the foot of the table having won only four matches all season, Ipswich were relegated two weeks ago. Three of those wins came under current manager Paul Lambert, the other before Sheffield-born Paul Hurst was sacked October. Ipswich’s last league victory was at Bolton at the beginning of the month, a team joining them in the third tier.
Blades boss Chris Wilder, a lifelong fan, is only too aware of the pitfalls of the past before his arrival and is taking nothing for granted. He said: “I was at Oxford and [knew the value of] the prize of getting back into the Football League and what would have been the prize if we had not got into the Football League. That was a pressure situation.
“You fall back on your values, what you believe in and how you manage and how you want your group to react and behave. There is never just another win. You’ve got to tick a lot of boxes to win games.”