The FourFourTwo Preview: Hull vs Sheffield United
The alternative option to Swansea vs Chelsea.
While Jose Mourinho’s Champions League semi-finalists attempt to keep their Premier League title dreams alive in South Wales, two underdogs will be having their day down Wembley Way as Hull and Sheffield United face off in an unlikely FA Cup semi-final showdown.
- Hull 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- West Ham 2-1 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Hull 0-2 Man City (Prem)
SHEFFIELD UNITED FORM
- Sheffield Utd 1-0 Rotherham (L1)
- Sheffield Utd 1-1 L Orient (L1)
- Sheffield Utd 0-0 Brentford (L1)
- Swindon 2-1 Sheffield Utd (L1)
- Crawley 0-2 Sheffield Utd (L1)
Hull have only once before reached this stage of the famous competition, in 1930, while it’s been more than decade since United – four times winners from 1899-1925 – troubled the final four, losing 1-0 to Arsenal in 2003 after a Freddie Ljungberg strike and David Seaman wonder-save to deny Paul Peschisolido.
You have to go back to 1993 to find the last time Sheffield United played at Wembley in an FA Cup tie, when they lost to Steel City rivals Wednesday in the semis. Yet they are now just 90 minutes away from the showpiece event against either Wigan or Arsenal on May 17 and a place in Europe, with United facing the prospect of competing in both League One and the Europa League in 2014/15.
A cup semi-final has proved a welcome bonus to an impressive first season of solidity back in the top flight for Steve Bruce’s side; last weekend’s 1-0 success over Swansea opened up a nine-point gap between them and the drop zone with 15 left to play for.
Ahmed Elmohamady is relishing the big occasion, saying: "We can look forward to the game and what is going to be a big one for us as players, for the fans and for everybody in Hull. We don't want just one trip to Wembley this year. To go twice would be fantastic."
Wins over Middlesbrough, Southend, Brighton and Sunderland make up what seems, on paper, a rather routine route to the national stadium for the Tigers. But for the Blades, the road to Wembley has not only been arduous, but also the catalyst to save a season that had seemed destined to end in relegation.
Play-off semi-finalists last term, suffering late second-leg heartache at Yeovil, United began 2013/14 with just one win and 10 defeats from their opening 14 fixtures.
New manager Nigel Clough’s third game in charge was a 3-2 win at Colchester in the FA Cup first round, and the Blades have rarely looked back, disposing of Cambridge, Aston Villa, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Charlton – the latter two rounds amid a run of nine straight wins with eight clean sheets.
Now safely ensconced in mid-table and eight points off the play-offs, Clough made eight changes for the midweek home game against Rotherham. With places at Wembley up for grabs, a last-gasp Ben Davies spot-kick ended the Millers’ 16-match unbeaten run and ensured the Blades will head south in buoyant mood.
The new stadium holds contrasting memories for each set of supporters; Hull winning promotion to the Premier League against Bristol City in 2008 thanks to Dean Windass’s thumper. The Blades, on the other hand, have trudged back north dejected on two occasions, losing a Championship play-off final to Burnley in 2009 and a League One play-off final to Huddersfield three years later after a mammoth penalty shootout.
Bruce will be without cup-tied strike duo Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, and has admitted he faces some “horrible” decisions over selection. "It's a semi-final and I'm going to disappoint some people. Everyone wants to play and rightfully so, it's Wembley. That's when your job becomes horrible and nasty, you've got to let people down. I've got 25 players and I can pick 11, so I'm going to have people disappointed."
The Tigers, whose application to change their name to that of their big cat nickname was rejected by the Football Association Council this week, will also be without Allan McGregor, Robbie Brady, Joe Dudgeon and Paul McShane, while Tom Huddlestone is recovering from a bad back.
On Tuesday night, United rested eight players from last weekend’s draw against Leyton Orient in readiness for Sunday’s shenanigans. Harry Maguire, Stephen McGinn and Kieron Freeman were the only players to also start the midweek win against Rotherham which saw 18-year-old prospect Connor Dimaio handed a full debut.
Player to watch: George Boyd (Hull)
‘The White Pele’ returned from his three-match spitting suspension against Swansea and played a key role in Hull picking up the win that should ensure their Premier League survival. The 28-year-old has steadily climbed the leagues since starring for Stevenage in non-league and later Peterborough, where many of his goals were spectacular, and he is well versed in terrorising League One defences.
Boyd’s second league goal for the Tigers proved the winner last weekend, with the Scotland international misplacing just one pass (26/27) all afternoon.
"For Boydy in particular I'm delighted," said his manager. "It was a ridiculous decision by the FA to ban him. But, no disrespect to Boydy, you know it's your day if he scores with a header. He's done fantastically well.
"The one thing about George is that he trains every day as if it's his last. You can't keep him down. He's one of these players who realises what a great job he's got. Even though he's not played every week, he's always got a smile on his face. He's an absolute joy to watch train and I'm sure he'll want to grab every chance that comes his way between now and the end of the season."
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Sheff U 2-3 Hull (Ch'ship, Dec 10)
- Hull 0-1 Sheff U (Ch'ship, Oct 10)
- Hull 2-1 Sheff U (FAC, Feb 09)
- Sheff U 1-1 Hull (FAC, Feb 09)
- Sheff U 2-0 Hull (Ch'ship, Apr 08)
Two managers with plenty of FA Cup pedigree; Bruce lifting the trophy three times as a Manchester United player from 1990-96 and former Nottingham Forest midfielder Clough a runner-up in 1991.
"I remember my first one [in 1990] when we were supposed to trounce Oldham and we got away with a 3-3 draw," said Bruce.
"A semi-final is a semi-final. There's nerves, edginess, you need a bit of luck and the bounce of the ball.
"We may never get a better chance of getting to an FA Cup final, but Sheffield United will be thinking exactly the same thing. We've got to perform on the day and that's the key. No matter what division you're in, you have to perform on the day."
Much like Bradford last season, the fairy tale run reaches its final destination. Blades to break their Wembley hoodoo with a nerve-shredding 1-0 win; their second triumph at the national stadium and first since 1925.