Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sheffield United 3 v Nottingham Forest 1 - FA Cup 5th Round

Sunday 16th February 2014
at Bramall Lane, Sheffield S2 4SU
FA Cup 5th Round
Sheffield United (0) 3
Conor Coady 66
Chris Porter 90, 90+
Nottingham Forest (1) 1
Jamie Paterson 28
Admission £15, Programme £3
Attendance 25,118
I was meant to be at the Blades home game in the previous round, a 1-1 draw v Fulham, but despite having a match ticket in my pocket and actually being in the vicinity of Sheffield 2 that afternoon, the nearest I actually got to the game was listening to the 'unrivalled match day coverage' on BBC Radio Sheffield, as I sat in my car, soaked to the skin, waiting for a roadside recovery service vehicle to turn up.
I suppose I should be grateful that I took the precaution of investing in a breakdown cover policy, or the day could've been even worse and a lot more expensive than it actually was.
Surprisingly, given that I frequent Bramall Lane fairly regularly when the teams I'm affiliated to aren't playing, this is only the second Sheffield United game I've seen this season and the previous occasion was only a friendly at Alfreton Town.
Of course, I saw Forest in the previous round, when they played out 0-0 stalemate v Preston North End at the City Ground, which wasn't exactly one of the most entertaining games I've ever been to, if truth be told.
Both of today's teams won their respective replays away from home, to set up this mouthwatering 5th round tie, with the Blades grabbing a dramatic winner in the last minute of extra time at Craven Cottage, to see off their Premier League opponents 1-0, while Forest beat League 1 PNE, 2-0 at Deepdale, the following night.
Both sides beat Premier League sides in the third round, where the Blades triumphed 2-1 over Aston Villa at Villa Park, while an out of sorts West Ham United were drubbed 5-0 at the City Ground, a result for which Forest possibly didn't get the credit they deserved, because the Hammers played an allegedly under strength side that afternoon, which 'only' cost approximately 500% more than the full strength one that Billy Davies fielded.
I was at the Forest v Hammers game too (a detour on my way home from Exeter City and Mansfield Town the previous afternoon) and serious allegations have been made about me by a work colleague, that I am developing a fondness for 'the Tricky Trees' of late.
You what!? Not effing likely!
The scene is set then ... and it was a fairly muddy scene in places too.
Sheffield United:
Howard; Brayford, Maguire, Collins, Harris (Hill 90); Flynn, Doyle, Coady (McGinn 90), Murphy; Scougall, Baxter (Porter 87).
Unused Subs - Miller, McGinn, Long, Kennedy, De Girolamo.
Nottingham Forest:
De Vries; Halford, Lascelles, Collins, Fox; Jara; Majewski (Abdoun 77), Reid, Paterson, Henderson (Djebbour 70), Cox (Mackie 68).
Unused Subs - Darlow, Harding, Greening, Derbyshire.
Prior to kick off, there was an immaculately observed and respected one minute silence held as a tribute to Sir Tom Finney, one of the greatest players in English football history, who has sadly passed away on Friday, at the age of 91 years old.
Nigel Clough's side adopted a good old fashioned 4-4-2 system this afternoon, while his foe Billy Davies, went for a more convoluted  4-1-2-1-2 approach.
It would be fair to say that football is, in essence, a simple game ... and traditional values, overcame the complexities and complicated structure of Forest's game plan.
No nonsense determination and perseverance won the day for the Blades, in this pulsating cup tie, which could've gone either way right up until the last minute.
Two penalty calls, one in each half, both in front of United's Shoreham Street Kop, had a massive bearing on the final outcome, but after controlling much of the first half and having taken a single goal lead in with them at the break, the wheels came off for Forest after the interval and the home side never looked back once Conor Coady capitalised on an error by the visitors keeper Dorus de Vries on 66 minutes, to level the score.
Harry Maquire tangled with Simon Cox in front of the Kop and the latter went to ground, after what looked suspiciously to me, like a push in the back. A stonewall penalty for Forest from where I was stood (nobody was actually sitting in Block H of the GAC South stand), but the referee, Michael Oliver, was obviously closer than me to the incident and had a much better view and grasp of the rules than me, so the game carried on and Maquire escaped punishment. To be honest, I wasn't unduly upset that the Blades had got away the blatant infringement ... and after all is said and done, I'm sure these things balance themselves out over the course of a season.
Former Blades player Andy Reid was instrumental in Forest taking control of the battle for midfield, which effectively dictated the pattern of the first half and it wasn't really a surprise that it was Reid who set up the chance that the visitors to took the lead from on 28 minutes, when he whipped an inviting cross into United's penalty area that Jamie Paterson nodded home past Mark Howard with a well directed glancing header.
But with half time approaching, Nigel Clough's side were keeping the Forest advantage down to just that single goal, as the former Forest player plotted how he intended to turn things around in the second half.
Half time
Elsewhere, as the interval approached, the draw for the next round of the FA Cup was being made and news started to filter through that the winners of this game, had been given a home game against the winners of Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic.
The teams left the field at half time, to the vocal strains of "Nigel, what's the score!?", aimed at the Blades manager by 6,000 away fans packed into the Jessica Ennis Stand (AKA Bramall Lane End), as word spread that a second half comeback, could potentially set up a Steel City derby at the Lane, if the Owls manage to overcome Charlton, in their rearranged game that was called off yesterday, due to Hillsborough having a waterlogged pitch.
HT - Blades 0 v Forest 1
Billy Davies's side squeezed United back into their own last third at the beginning of the second half and only a couple of excellent saves from Howard, kept Paterson and Cox at bay.
But then the tide turned and in front of a vociferous home support, the Blades started to cut through the Forest midfield and make some decent forward runs of their own.
John Brayford crossed from the right hand side of the area, Dorus de Vries made a real mess of dealing with the situation and spilled the ball to Conor Coady who took the ball around the grounded keeper and rolled it into the empty net, while a covering defender tumbled over de Vries to add a touch of comedy to the proceedings.
We decided that if this game ended in a draw, we were definitely going to the replay, because, this is the kind of occasion that the FA Cup is all about.
A bare knuckle scrap, on a glue pot pitch, in front of two partisan and noisy sets of supporters.
The ground was literally rocking ... if you could bottle this kind of atmosphere it would be a priceless commodity.
With three minutes to go, the Blades number 9 Chris Porter entered the fray from on the bench.
Evidently, Nigel Clough had decided that his team's best chance of progressing in the cup was here and now, rather than  taking their chances in a replay at the City Ground in a fortnight.
What a last throw of the dice Porter turned out to be.
Jamie Murphy broke into the Forest area and squared the ball across the face of goal, where it came off of Greg Halford's arm as the former Blades player attempted to block the cross.
This time Michael Oliver pointed to the penalty spot without hesitation.
Porter stepped up and with just stoppage time remaining, put United ahead for the first time in the game from the spot, with his first touch of the ball..
Cue noise and pandemonium all around me.
Forest surrendered possession cheaply from the restart and the Blades swarmed forward again and unbelievably, in an instant, Porter was on the scoresheet again, for the second time in a minute, when Jamie Murphy surged into the box to the left hand byeline and squared the ball to where the Blades 'super sub' was on hand to prod it over the line with his outstretched leg.
There was no way back for Nottingham Forest now and their army of supporters started to swarm out of the ground.
Unable to contain their joy, a large number of Blades fans swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate what will no doubt go down in Bramall Lane folklore as a famous victory.
It was now the turn of United's fans to chant "Nigel what's the score!?"
FT - Sheffield United 3 v Nottingham Forest 1
Full time
United are having a torrid season in Division 1, where they are deeply embroiled in a dogfight against relegation, while Forest are challenging for promotion to the Premier League at the business end of the Championship.
Nigel Clough said after the game, that the result of his sides away game at Gillingham this coming Wednesday night, was more important to him than this cup win ... and once the dust has settled, he is 100% right, of course.
But that isn't going to stop hordes of Blades fans from going out for a monumental celebration tonight.
It's up to Wednesday now, to step up to the mark and get past Charlton Athletic to set up a Steel City quarter final.
The FA Cup is apparently a diminished competition, that nobody takes seriously any more, but to me, it always was and always will be, the best cup competition in the world.
Today went a long way towards affirming that view.