Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Blades on Cloud Nine

Sheffield United 2
Charlton Athletic 0
Bramall lane
Attendance 30,040

My old man stood with tears streaming down his face, unashamed and making no effort to clear them he joined me and the rest of the packed house in singing Annies Song, the noise was enough to shake the foundations not only of The Lane but of every building surrounding. The final whistle had given us a moment to savour and the only thing left for us to do, sing until our lungs were sore. This was the sound of United defying every obstacle in their way, this was the sound of The Blades booking their place at Wembley in the FA Cup semi final. 

The United side picked for today had plenty of happy surprises, Brayford made it into the eleven, Murphy and Harry also returned. These were three of seven changes Nigel Clough made from his mid week winning side, Harris, Flynn, Baxter and Scougall all made it back into a very competitive and strong Blades line up. New boy Freeman joined super sub Chris Porter on the bench. 

Flags drifted across the stadium and and atmosphere reached hysteric levels as the game got under way, United kicked towards the Kop in the first half, something I detest as to many times it has been a bad omen. The first half was devoid of any really flowing football, and both teams seemed very hectic on the ball, the atmosphere and the occasion clearly taking over the players for at least the early stages. The best early chance came for United, a corner whipped in with real purpose but Neil Collins could only guide his header over the crossbar. Charlton under the guidance of Chris Powell looked to try and take control of the physical side of the game, something they are known for in the modern age, but despite a small spell of set pieces they couldn't test Howard in The Blades goal. The first good opportunity had saw ex Sheffield Wednesday forward Tudgay fire a low effort in on goal, Howard was quick to push it away, the follow up caused problems as Church crossed back in but again Howard claimed the ball confidently. United fans thought they had a reason to celebrate as Coady put a loose ball into the roof of the goal but as the fans cheered the linesman flag was raised and the game remained in deadlock. Just before half time Maguire went on one of his rampaging forward runs, he then played a world class ball to Murphy who used pace and trickery to put himself in the perfect position to lay the ball to Harris, his curling effort not a long way from the target but not close enough to give United the lead. Half Time arrived and both sides were still in this cup tie, the second half required one team to step up and make the occasion their own.

The second half began with no changes for either side and again the two teams looked like they were drifting rather than focusing on their game plan. Scougall and Baxter both tried their luck from long range but Scougall went over the bar into the travelling support, Baxter's was held easily by Hamer in the Charlton goal. Maguire showed some fancy footwork turning on the ball more like a skilful midfielder than a centre half after a set piece ended up in his path, but his powerful shot on goal hit the side netting. Charlton kept coming forward but in the final third
United were the team making threats. After some backwards and forwards play from both teams Charlton came agonizingly close to breaking Blades hearts, on the hour mark Jackson put in a free kick, Tudgay took control of the ball as Howard came rushing out leaving an empty net, Tudgay proceeded to intelligently lay the ball off into the box as team mate Harriott made a darting run, but he couldn't make the right contact and the ball grazed the post as it went wide, Blades fans made light of the situation but I would like to bet that a fair few hearts were in mouths. A throw in lead to the opener, the throw went straight to Baxter who put in a magnificent looping ball to the box, Ryan Flynn forced himself some space and with exquisite technique looped the ball over Hamer and sent Bramall Lane crazy. Charlton burst forward straight from kick off as The Blades fans rocked the foundation of the stadium in song, United won back possession and played it forward to Murphy, he used a burst of pace to go past two Charlton players into space, after cutting back inside he laid the ball to John Brayford, we had barely gotten our breaths back from celebrating the opener when Brayford hit a deflected shot which rolled into the back of the net, two goals up and as the Cardiff loanee leapt into the air to celebrate we all came to terms with the fact our League One club was on it's way to Wembley. United took full control of the game and Flynn nearly made it three but his effort went
high and wide. Coady again put the ball in the back of the net, but again had his goal ruled out for offside. Davies and Porter came into the game replacing Baxter and Scougall. Flynn had his last effort saved by Hamer before being replaced by McGinn. Charlton nearly got a conciliation goal deep in stoppage time, Reza turned and hit a beautiful effort on goal but amazingly it was matched by Howard who made a world class save. This was the last bit of action in the game, the final whistle signalled a roar in the stadium, my dads tears of joy began, the celebrations began and the players took a lap of honour as we hailed our heroes, a magic day with a magic ending. Many people seemed to forget that not only had we gotten to the FA Cup semi-final, we had just made it nine wins in a row, we kept our momentum rolling, now it feels like anything is possible.

-Jonathan Gascoigne



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