Sheffield United and Bradford City are this season’s Cup heroes but their giant-killing exploits have come at the expense of their promotion challenges.
This is the view of Blades’ manager Nigel Clough, ahead of today’s Bramall Lane meeting between the Yorkshire rivals.
Bradford caused, arguably, one of the biggest Cup upsets of all time when they hammered Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup before then claiming the scalp of another Premier League side in Sunderland.
But City’s promotion push has faltered in recent weeks, and Clough believes the fatigue – both mental and physical – of combining league and cup success, is a key factor.
Clough, of course, has also experienced this, United reaching the League Cup semi-finals – beating Premier League sides QPR and Southampton this term in cup meetings – before going out to Tottenham in a two-legged semi-final.
That has had an adverse affect on United’s league form, meaning they have missed out on automatic promotion.
“Bradford are not out of play-off contention yet, but the cup run has hindered it certainly,” said Clough.
“Like us they have a reasonably sized squad, but once you go beyond your first 12, 13 players and then are dipping outside of that, it then becomes difficult.
“They also suffer a little bit because they are one of the biggest clubs in the division as well.
“When you beat Chelsea, then everyone wants to beat you.
“When people saw us play against Spurs, win at QPR, beat Southampton, they want to beat you. We are one of the biggest clubs in the division anyway, but they want to beat you even more.”
Victory today for United, coupled with Rochdale failing to win at Gillingham, would secure Clough’s side a place in the play-offs. For City, they must win all four remaining games to keep alive their mathematical chances of gatecrashing the top six.
Both teams go into the match on the back of disappointing midweek results. The Blades slipped up 1-0 at relegated Yeovil Town, while champions-elect Bristol City confirmed promotion with a 6-0 win at Valley Parade.
“There’s something at stake still,” said Clough. “It’s not ideal from our point of view, but I think Bradford will see it as a last chance.
“We know from their Cup exploits what a good team they are.”
Clough believes the mental fatigue, as much as the physical side of the game, can catch up with players.
“The mental (fatigue) is something you can’t measure,” said Clough, who celebrates his 100th game in charge of the Blades today. “It’s not excuses, it’s a factor in both our league forms this season.
“That means we have to be a little bit more patient in the league. We might not be able to replicate what Bristol City have done, but we are hoping to do it another way through the play-offs. We still hope we can achieve both.”
While the Blades look destined for the play-offs, a season that has featured some stirring cup heroics is in danger of fizzling out for Bradford.
On Easter Friday, City – FA Cup quarter-finalists this term– were just one place adrift of the play-offs with a game in hand.
Then, City and Chesterfield, who occupied sixth place, had the same goal difference and a tilt at the play-offs was on.
Three straights defeats later, however, and City trail the Spireites by 10 points. Worse still, Paul Cook’s men are now 17 goals better off than their West Yorkshire counterparts following Tuesday night’s 6-0 hammering for Phil Parkinson’s men by Bristol City.
For the Bradford manager, the priority today is bouncing back from that loss as he sets the players a target of improving on last season’s 11th-place finish.
“We have to respond (to Tuesday) in the right manner,” said Parkinson, who took charge of the club in August, 2011. “We want to finish higher than we did last season.
“We have finished higher each time since I came to the club and that always has to be the aim – to progress every single year.
“The Cups have been great, but it is your league position and whether it improves year-on-year that is the big thing.”
City lost 2-0 at home to the Blades in October.
Parkinson added: “Sheffield United are up there and credit to them for that. Obviously, they would have loved to be up there challenging with Bristol City and Preston North End. They have fallen a bit short of that. Whether the cup run detracted from that, it is hard to say.”
Derby day previews: Page 3.