A PROUD Yorkshireman – and lifelong Sheffield United fan – Neil Warnock cannot wait for Sunday.
The White Rose county will be in full bloom as, for just the fourth time in history, two clubs from within the Broad Acres go head-to-head for the prize of an FA Cup final appearance.
Considering how much our sides have struggled over the past decade or two, Warnock insists Hull City and his beloved Blades battling through to the last four is a major achievement.
“It will be brilliant for Yorkshire football,” said the 65-year-old. “And one that is long overdue. The rest of the country might be more interested in Arsenal v Wigan and whether Arsene Wenger can win a trophy. But this is all about a county that hasn’t had the best of times lately.
“Look at how Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday are struggling at the wrong end of the Championship right now, while Sheffield United are even in League One. All three should be doing a lot better.
“Worst of all, they have been struggling for some time, too. So, for the county to have a day out like this Sunday is brilliant. I also believe that Hull and Sheffield United can show the rest of the country what real supporters are all about.
“They are both great sets of fans. So good, in fact, that I can see whoever loses on Sunday remaining behind to applaud the victors. That would be fantastic to see, especially after what happened last year (when Millwall fans caused trouble) at Wembley.”
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to head south on Sunday morning for Yorkshire’s biggest day out since April, 1993, when Sheffield Wednesday beat the Blades at Wembley to reach the FA Cup final.
Before that, the last time two White Rose clubs had met at this stage of the competition had been in 1930 when Huddersfield Town got the better of the Owls at Old Trafford. Coincidentally, that is the only previous occasion that Hull have competed in a semi-final as the East Riding club were overcome, after a replay, by eventual winners Arsenal.
Two years earlier, the Terriers had also edged out Sheffield opposition to book a trip to Wembley as the Blades lost 1-0 after a second replay.
Just who will compete in the May 17 final remains to be seen but Warnock, who will be at Sunday’s match in his guise as a pundit for BT Sport, is predicting a tight contest.
“It promises to be a great occasion,” said the former Blades and Leeds manager, “even though I don’t think there will be many goals in it.
“Sheffield United are always cautious in the first half. Nigel (Clough) doesn’t like to give anything away and I would say Hull are quite similar in how they play under Steve.
“Hull are a side who seem to like waiting to see what the opposition are going to do before changing their plans accordingly. I reckon it will be like a game of chess.
“Of course, growing up in Sheffield as a Blade, I want us to win. I even said that to Curtis Davies recently when we had him on TalkSport after the quarter-finals.
“I see Curtis as the most improved player in the Premier League this season. I told him that and how I had tried to sign him a couple of times earlier in his career.
“But, when it came down to the semi-final, I said there was only one team who were going to win and it wasn’t Hull City. We had a good laugh about it.”
With four FA Cup wins to their name along with six appearances in the final and 13 in the last four, Sheffield United undoubtedly boast the best pedigree of Sunday’s two semi-finalists.
Hull, though, are the county’s sole Premier League representative and, thanks to last weekend’s win at home to Swansea City, all but assured of remaining in the top flight beyond the end of this season.
Warnock had first-hand experience of taking on a Steve Bruce side last season with his then Leeds side being beaten 3-2 at Elland Road by the Tigers and then 2-0 in the return at the KC. He is, therefore, ideally placed to assess the job Bruce has done since taking charge of Hull in the summer of 2012.
“Steve has done brilliantly,” said Warnock. “Just look at where Hull are now compared to when he took over.
“This is the first time Hull have been in a semi-final in 80-odd years and that is a big, big achievement. In my eyes, if Hull stay up – and I see no reason why they won’t – Steve should be in the running for Manager of the Year.
“People go on about (Roberto) Martinez but Everton finished sixth last year anyway. Before the season, I thought Hull would have all on to stay up.
“They had been a good team in the Championship, I’ll admit that. When I was at Leeds, they were really impressive in beating us at their place. But then Sone Aluko got injured and a lot of their attacking threat went with him. In the end, Hull were quite fortunate to get over the line.
“To go from that to where Hull are now is down to Steve Bruce. I also think the chairman (Assem Allam) deserves massive praise.
“I know there has been all the controversy over the name change and all that but the chairman has backed his manager brilliantly where it matters, in the transfer market.
“Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic were inspired signings, at a time when others in the Premier League were dithering.
“Great credit to Steve for going after the pair but big credit also to the chairman for backing his manager.”
As for his old club, Warnock added: “Sheffield United can win and I really hope Nigel does it. Not just for himself but also his dad. Brian, whom I shared a city with when manager of Notts County, never won the Cup. It as the one that eluded him.
“The big thing for Yorkshire, of course, is that we will have a team in the final regardless of who wins on Sunday. I’ll be there, too, covering the game for BT Sport. I might even wear a white rose for the day.”