FA Cup | Bramall Lane | Sun 9 Mar | 12pm
The Sheffield derby that should have been.
It’s not that FFT has anything against Charlton, but the FA Cup randomiser (otherwise known as fumbling father-son duo) done good when it threw up the possibility of a Steel City quarter-final. All Sheffield Wednesday had to do was see off the flapping drop-dodgers at Hillsborough and the job was a good ‘un.
SHEFFIELD UNITED FORM
- Sheffield Utd 2-0 P'boro (L1)
- MK Dons 0-1 Sheffield Utd (L1)
- Colchester 0-1 Sheffield Utd (L1)
- Sheffield Utd 3-0 Bristol City (L1)
- Gillingham 0-1 Sheffield Utd (L1)
- Leicester 3-0 Charlton (Ch'ship)
- Sheffield Wed 1-2 Charlton (FAC)
- Charlton 1-0 QPR (Ch'ship)
- Charlton 0-2 B'ham (Ch'ship)
- Wigan 2-1 Charlton (Ch'ship)
That didn’t happen, and when Simon Church headed home what turned out to be a 65th-minute Charlton winner, the city’s disappointment was palpable.
Sheffield United instead have to make home advantage count against the Addicks – and boy could this game not have come at a better time.
One need only cast their mind back to February 1 when the Blades were one place off the bottom of League One after a 3-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Crewe. Six games and as many wins later, though, and Nigel Clough’s men are past the dizzy comforts of mid-table in 10th. They might go into this one with less rest than their opponents, having beaten Peterborough 2-0 on Tuesday night, but with six consecutive clean sheets they're going to take some beating.
Clough has transformed the fortunes of the third-tier stragglers, not only steering them away from relegation but guiding the Blades through six rounds of the cup – including a replay at Fulham.
It’s fair to say Clough Snr would be proud, as he was during his son’s playing days; a photo of Nigel scoring a header with his eyes open was cherished on the wall of his dad’s office at Nottingham Forest.
Looking to spoil the party once again – and take great pleasure in it – are a Charlton side for whom the FA Cup has provided a welcome distraction from Championship life.
The Londoners head into this game embroiled in a dogged scrap for second-tier survival, having endured a difficult campaign in which financial constraints have made life tough for boss Chris Powell. The Addicks occupy the final relegation spot, a point behind Millwall.
Top goalscorer Yann Kermorgant left for Bournemouth in January, and owner Roland Duchatelet – Belgium’s 18th richest man in 2011 – has admitted more stars could leave for one of his other teams, Standard Liege.
Organising bigwigs have decided to air the tussle at the wholly unhelpful time of midday on Sunday, meaning thousands of Charlton fans face awkward arrangements, with the first train from London arriving seven minutes after kick-off. Whatever happens, there’s certain to be Football League representation in the semis.
Sheffield United defender Harry Maguire should make it after missing the Blades' last three games. Striker Jamie Murphy is also being monitored after a knock.
Charlton have on-loan Nottingham Forest man Marcus Tudgay cup-tied, while long-term absentee Leon Cort has only resumed training this week.
Player to watch: Harry Maguire (Sheffield Utd)
If you believe reports the young defender, who turned 21 on Wednesday, has been watched by Chelsea spies recently – and this looks as good a game as any to impress in if fit.
Maguire is already in his third full season with the club, having established himself as an integral presence at the heart defence since Sheffield United’s drop to League One in 2011. The boyhood Blade made his England Under-21 debut in 2012, but hasn’t featured for Gareth Southgate’s men since. Nevertheless, it seems only a matter of time before his abilities takes him away from Bramall Lane. Calm, composed and dominant in the air, Maguire could be key for Clough’s men if they’re to avoid the same treatment as their city rivals.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Charlton 1-0 Sheff U (L1, Jan 12)
- Sheff U 0-2 Charlton (L1, Oct 11)
- Sheff U 2-1 Charlton (FAC, Jan 09)
- Sheff U 3-1 Charlton (Ch, Dec 08)
- Charlton 2-5 Sheff U (Ch, Nov 08)
The FA Cup was the only trophy to elude his father, but Clough Jr will feel like a winner if he can guide his side to the final four. With Hull and Sunderland facing off at the KC Stadium it’s not entirely unreasonable to dream of a final appearance at Wembley, but in the meantime Sheffield United’s achieving boss has the tough task of seeing off higher-league opposition once again.
Clough never reached this stage of the competition during his three-and-a-half year tenure at Pride Park, going no further than the fourth round in his three full seasons as Derby County boss.
"We go in not looking over our shoulders and in a buoyant mood," he declared. "We're in a good, positive frame of mind for what will be another tough match. There are some big tests ahead but we've got nothing to fear."
In the opposite dugout, Mr. Nice Guy Powell is attempting to breathe life into his team’s dreary campaign. A positive result could work wonders for confidence as the Addicks prepare for crunch league clashes to come.
Rest schmest. With home advantage and form in their favour, the Blades can cut Charlton down to size. 2-1.