THE SHARP BLADE: Sheffield United prove equal to Manchester United

IT was the best night of the season. Nearly 30,000 packed into the Lane, a great atmosphere, capped by a terrific performance from those in red and white stripes.

It speaks volumes that this isn’t the Sheffield United first team we’re talking about, but our U18s.

Tuesday night was just what Blades fans needed. Following an abject season which culminated in the humiliation of relegation to League One, it was great to have an occasion that gave hope for the future to us long-suffering Unitedites.

That occasion was this week’s first leg of the FA Youth Cup final between the Blades and that other United.

Getting to the final has been an achievement in itself - the first time in our history no less - and for the opening quarter of the match or so you could tell the home side were nervous.

The visitors took a deserved lead, but as the first half wore on the young Blades started to slowly grow in confidence.

And just before half time they got their reward when Callum McFadzean fired a long range effort into the bottom corner.

In the second half, kicking towards the Kop, the Sheffield United youngsters came out all guns blazing.

It was end to end stuff, and despite Man Utd taking the lead once more, Jordan Slew’s shot found the net with the aid of a deflection, to make the final score 2-2.

The Blades will go into Monday night’s second leg at Old Trafford as underdogs, but with all to play for.

Of the Blades starlets on display, Jordan Slew was the one who stood out the most. His pace, strength, movement, and finishing mark him out as a young striker with a lot of potential, and he has of course featured, and scored, for the first team already.

Elliott Whitehouse was industrious in midfield, Harry Maguire looked assured at the back, and George Long pulled off some good saves.

The signs are promising that a clutch of these young players could go on to forge successful careers as first team players. But there is never any guarantee, and Blades fans should remain cautious. History shows that some 85 per cent of players who play in the FA Youth Cup final don’t make the grade as professionals.

It is also unfair and counterproductive to heap too much expectation upon such young players.

All we can do is get behind them, starting with Monday night’s visit to Old Trafford.