Alcock is eager to go back for more cup glory

Sheffield United's Craig Alcock
Sheffield United's Craig Alcock
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There can be few at Sheffield United, be they players or supporters, who reacted to the club being handed a trip to the North East in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with anything other than a shiver.

Victoria Park, even allowing for the improvements of recent years that at least means both ends of the ground are protected from the elements, is rarely on anyone’s list of ‘grounds to do’ other than those football followers with a masochistic streak.

That, though, is where the Blades are heading tonight as 
Nigel Clough takes his side to the club where his own father’s managerial career started in the mid-Sixties.

From small acorns, however, grow mighty oaks and while a second-round tie at Hartlepool is hardly one to get pulses racing, defender Craig Alcock knows better than most where victory tonight could ultimately take the South Yorkshire club after being part of the Peterborough United side that lifted the Trophy at Wembley last season.

“The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is a great competition,” said the Cornwall-born defender, who is hoping United can progress in his absence tonight after Clough opted to ring the changes.

“Every footballer wants a medal and it also looks great on your CV.

“To be part of a team that won something is what we all want and everyone at Peterborough was proud of what we achieved last season.

“It is certainly nicer than being part of a team that struggles. Plus, not many can say they have played at Wembley.

“Many a better player than me won’t have played there so I know what it means.

“The experience was brilliant and I think it is a great competition for the lower leagues especially later on when everything really kicks in.

“It helps players at this level play in front of 20,000-30,000 crowds.

“Plus, there is the unique feeling of playing at Wembley. It is a great competition.”

Alcock’s winner’s medal last March came courtesy of a 3-1 victory over Chesterfield at the national stadium on a day that the defender admits he will never forget.

Exactly a fortnight on from Peterborough’s triumph, Sheffield United’s players were also treading the famous Wembley turf in an all-Yorkshire FA Cup semi-final with Hull City.

The Tigers may have eventually won an eight-goal thriller but, as with Alcock and his Peterborough team-mates, the memories of what was still a proud day for the Blades will live long in the memory.

It is why tonight, for all the likelihood of it being a low-key affair in Hartlepool – and Clough being intent on making 11 changes from the XI that lost at Chesterfield on Saturday – that lure of a possible Wembley return later in the season will still be in the mind.

Alcock said: “Having had that experience, I would love to do it again. You go into every game, regardless of the competition, wanting to win and we are no different.

“You want to go as far as you can, like Sheffield United did last year in the FA Cup.

“Realistically, no one expects you to win it or go that far but they really turned the odds on their head.

“The Johnstone’s Paint is a competition that anyone in Leagues One and Two can win so let’s see what happens.”

Hartlepool’s fortunes are, just like they were when Brian Clough took charge in 1965, at something of a low ebb.

Pool sit rock bottom of the Football League and are without a manager following Colin Cooper’s exit on Saturday night in the wake of a 3-0 home defeat to Carlisle United.

Last season was similarly wretched with safety not being assured until April 21 and whoever takes charge – Graham Kavanagh is expected to step in on a short-term basis – will have a difficult job to revive the fortunes of the perennial strugglers.

For the Blades, Michael Higdon will miss the trip north through suspension after being sent off in the weekend defeat at Chesterfield.

Competition rules dictate teams must select at least six players who started the previous game or six from the top 11 number of appearance makers.

With Clough revealing yesterday his intended starting line-up and five substitutes, the Blades could face a fine for failing to satisfy either criterion with the likes of Ian Turner, Diego De Girolamo, Chris Porter and Stephen McGinn having rarely featured this term.

Sheffield United: Turner, Davies, McGahey, Basham, Harris, Campbell-Ryce, McGinn, Reed, De Girolamo, Baxter, Porter. Substitutes: Collins, Doyle, McNulty, Murphy, Willis.

Last six games: Hartlepool United LWDLLD, Sheffield United WWLWWL.

Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).

Last time: Hartlepool United 1 Sheffield United 2; October 2, 2012; League One.