FA CUP: Phil Parkinson’s big match verdict – Belief is the key to Blades hopes of shocking Tigers

Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson. Picture: James Hardisty.
Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson. Picture: James Hardisty.
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SUNDAY promises to be a day that Sheffield United and my old club Hull City will never forget.

I know that because last season at Bradford City, we found ourselves in a very similar position thanks to our run to the Capital One Cup final.

The interest was huge, which was maybe to be expected considering no other team from the fourth tier of English football had reached a major Wembley final.

Of course, this weekend’s game is different in that Hull and Sheffield United are competing in a semi-final. But the match is still taking place at Wembley so I am sure any Bradford fans who tune in at home will have a few memories stirred of our own meeting with Swansea City.

That entire week will live long in all our minds. There were certainly plenty of memorable moments. Reaching Wembley by beating Aston Villa in the semi-finals was one.

Then, there was when we walked out of the tunnel ahead of the final to be met by a wall of noise and colour. Even though we got beat on the day, everyone savours the memory of what was a special day in the history of Bradford City.

Every professional wants to play at one of the world’s greatest venues and to be part of a major Cup final.

For that reason, there will be a lot of managers and players in the lower divisions who are very jealous of Nigel Clough and his team on Sunday. Everyone wants to be doing the same. The Sheffield United lads should remember that and savour every moment.

Like ourselves in last season’s League Cup, they have been the story of the FA Cup this time around. It is a terrific achievement for the city of Sheffield to get this far, or one half of it at least. Nigel Clough and his players should all be very proud.

Now, though, they will face the biggest challenge of all. Sheffield United have beaten a couple of Premier League teams already but this is going to be very different.

I don’t think anyone will disagree when I say that Wembley is a stadium that favours the club from the higher division. There is no getting away from that. A league ground, and especially a lower league ground, can be a real leveller. We certainly found that last season.

Arsenal’s quarter-final visit to Valley Parade was a good example. The weather and the rock hard ground were 
much more suited to us than Arsenal. And, to me, the tie 
had ‘Cup shock’ written all over it.

Wembley is very different. The surface is immaculate for a start. The dressing rooms were also very different to Valley Parade or anywhere else, for that matter. So, Sheffield United are probably facing their stiffest task yet.

That said, though, Hull City are not Arsenal. Steve Bruce’s side have had a good season but they have also had a couple of defeats of late. That means they have one eye on the Premier League table.

Sheffield United, on the other hand, are safe in League One so they can go into the semi-final and throw everything into it.

From what I have seen of their run to the semi-finals, they have played with a real confidence and belief in themselves. They have proved they can compete with the 
best.

Now, though, they will have to take that same belief into the semi-final.

That was how we got to the League Cup final in 2012-13. Our belief grew the longer our run went on.

By the time we faced Arsenal and, certainly, Aston Villa in the last four, we had an attitude of, ‘Let’s go and ruffle a few feathers’.

We were determined that the opposition would know they had been in a real Cup tie, regardless of how we got on. That is the attitude Sheffield United must take to Wembley.

For us, Villa was the big one. We were so close to the final but also so far away. We knew they had big-game players, such as Christian Benteke. But, equally, we knew that Villa also conceded a lot of goals and that their confidence was brittle.

That was something to exploit and the only way to do that was to send a team out that had an attacking threat. If you go into these games and just sit back – almost like you are waiting to get beat – then usually what happens is you get beat.

Hull, of course, start as favourites. It didn’t go great for me as manager at the KC Stadium but it is still a good club. The fans were good to me, despite results not going as we all hoped.

I think they understood what I had inherited. That is why I am so glad to see those supporters get their rewards this season.

For both clubs, preparation will be key. We learned a few lessons from the League Cup final that helped us when we later reached the play-off final.

The media exposure was something I hadn’t experienced before. Dealing with it can have a draining effect on everyone. I am not blaming that for what happened against Swansea but it can have an impact.

Other problems included dealing with the demand for tickets.

As a result, we made sure when we went back to Wembley in May that we treated it much more like a normal game, with the usual press arrangements and so on.

Against Northampton in the play-offs, I felt we got the balance right – whereas maybe we didn’t in the League Cup.

As for Sunday, it really is all about who copes with the occasion. Hull are in the Premier League but Sheffield United can’t fear them. They are only human beings, after all. And it is 11 versus 11 on the day. Sheffield United have to remember that.

The pressure is all on Hull City. And how they handle it will be vital. In contrast, there is no expectation on Sheffield United at all. That means they can play with freedom and stick to their game-plan. It should be a great game

Interview: Richard Sutcliffe.