AND then there was one.
Yorkshire’s poor record in the competition that started life almost three decades ago as the Associate Members’ Cup may well continue for another year as Sheffield United, who going into last night’s trip to Coventry were the bookmakers’ favourites to lift the Trophy, crashed out in disappointing fashion.
Penalties once again proved to be the Blades’ Achilles heel as shoot-out misses by Harry Maguire and Ryan Flynn allowed the Sky Blues to triumph 4-1 after David McAllister had earlier cancelled out Maguire’s own goal.
Following on from last May’s play-off final defeat to Huddersfield Town plus an exit from the Capital One Cup against Burton Albion three months later, it once again underlined United’s frailty when it comes to deciding games from the spot.
With injury-hit Doncaster Rovers also bowing out last night on penalties against Crewe Alexandra, White Rose hopes of success in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy now rest solely with Bradford City.
Whether the Bantams, who beat Port Vale 2-0 to reach the Northern semi-finals, can join Doncaster (2007) and Rotherham United (1996) in lifting the trophy remains to be seen. But there can surely be little doubt that the exit of Danny Wilson’s men represents a major blow to any hopes of a Yorkshire triumph in a competition where the Potteries boast four successes and Lancashire five.
To be fair, the Blades were far from at their best last night in a poor game.
But, even so, the quality Wilson has in his squad is sufficient to think that few clubs would have wanted to be paired with them in Saturday’s draw.
However, thanks to Gary McSheffrey, David McGoldrick, Carl Baker and John Fleck all showing ice cool nerves to beat George Long in the shoot-out, it is Coventry who are now the team to avoid.
The spot-kick drama came as a blessed relief to the majority of the 10,162 crowd who had been tempted away from their firesides on a freezing night by a cut price ticket offer.
For the opening 45 minutes, a sizeable number must surely have questioned whether they were getting value for money at £5 a ticket as the two teams produced a hugely forgettable affair.
There was, in fact, only one incident of note and that came courtesy of a stunning volley from Michael Doyle that Coventry goalkeeper Joe Murphy beat away at full stretch to his left.
That apart, however, there was precious little for either set of supporters to cheer as the two teams cancelled each other.
The lack of goalmouth incident in those turgid opening 45 minutes was not down to any lack of effort on the part of the two teams.
Far from it, in fact. But there was a distinct lack of quality, perhaps best summed up by McSheffrey’s effort towards the end of the first half that flew so high and wide that it even drew jeers from the home fans.
Thankfully, matters improved markedly after the break as proceedings took on a decent tempo as both sides passed the ball with much more purpose.
United were the first to threaten when a fierce tackle from Matthew Hill robbed Cyrus Christie of possession in the centre of the field.
Play was quickly spread to John Cofie on the left and the Manchester United loanee fired a cross that Hill was just unable to reach after scampering into the six-yard box.
After such a big let-off, Coventry were quickly stung into action and they went ahead 13 minutes after the restart when a raking ball over the top allowed Steven Jennings to beat the offside trap with a well-timed run.
He then fired a low cross that, in trying to cut out, Maguire could only divert into his own net with goalkeeper Long left stranded.
For a time, Coventry seized control as McGoldrick whipped in a cross that was begging to be touched in and then McSheffrey seemed poised to race through on goal only for the one-time Leeds loanee to miscontrol badly as the ball ran through to Long.
As the game moved into the final quarter, a second Coventry goal looked a distinct possibility.
United, however, are made of stern stuff under Wilson and they gradually clawed their way back into contention as Hill headed narrowly over just a few seconds after Richard Cresswell had been agonisingly close to tapping in Flynn’s cross.
The equaliser came with nine minutes remaining as McAllister fired a low shot under Murphy after the Sky Blues goalkeeper had only been able to parry a dipping 25-yard effort from Doyle.
That ensured the tie went to penalties but after youngster Joe Ironside had nervelessly netted with United’s first effort, Maguire had his spot-kick saved before Flynn blazed over.
That left Fleck with the task of netting Coventry’s fourth penalty, which he duly did to not only send the 636 Blades fans home in dejected mood but also weaken any hopes of a Yorkshire triumph in next year’s Trophy final.
Coventry City: Murphy; Christie, Wood, Edjenguele, Adams; Baker, Jennings, Moussa (Fleck 76), Bailey, McSheffrey; McGoldrick. Unused substitutes: Dunn, Clarke, Barton, O’Donovan.
Sheffield United: Long; Westlake, Maguire, Hill, Williams; Flynn, Doyle, McAllister, McFadzean (Chapell 66); Cofie (De Girolamo 71), Cresswell (Ironside 71). Unused substitutes: Coyne, Philliskirk.
Referee: M Brown (East Yorkshire).
Bradford through but Doncaster ousted: Page 22.