NIGEL ADKINS has called on Sheffield United to draw FA Cup inspiration from the 2010 exploits of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United as they aim to become just the second third-tier side to knock Manchester United out of the cup at Old Trafford in the post-war era.
The Blades travel across the Pennines for a marquee third-round assignment (5.30pm kick-off) as they and their White Rose counterparts aim to make their mark on the FA Cup landscape for a third successive campaign.
Bradford City flew the flag with distinction for the Broad Acres last term with the League One outfit securing famous wins over Chelsea and Sunderland before bowing out in the quarter-finals.
Similarly, the 2013-14 season also proved momentous for the Blades and Hull City, who played out an all-Yorkshire semi-final at Wembley before the Tigers lost out to Arsenal in a thrilling final.
The Blades also showed their cup pedigree in reaching the last four of the Capital One Cup last season and have enjoyed famous cup days at top-flight venues Villa Park, Upton Park and Loftus Road in the past two seasons.
Manager Adkins is the first to acknowledge that getting a positive result at the 11-time cup winners today will represent a Herculean task, but the last thing he will be doing is discounting their chances, with all the pressure heaped on the shoulders of beleaguered counterpart Louis van Gaal.
Adkins is urging his side – who will be roared on by a travelling army of over 8,500 fans – to play without fear this tea-time as they aim to follow in the footsteps of Leeds, who won at Old Trafford thanks to Jermaine Beckford’s goal in a shock round-three upset six years ago.
Adkins told The Yorkshire Post: “We’ve got to enjoy it. It’s easier said than done because we know what a good team Manchester United are.
“There are three results and we’ll take two of them. The third one, it could go the wrong way. But we should go there with a fearless attitude to get two of those three possible results.
“It’s the ‘Theatre Of Dreams’ we are going to so why shouldn’t we dream?
“Leeds went there and won. They were in League One at the time, so who knows?
“We’ll give it a shot. Yes, it’s easier said than done because they’ve got some very talented players and they keep great possession of the football.
“Yes, it’s a massive ask, but let’s go there and embrace it.”
For Adkins, today’s tie represents a bit of a role reversal for his Blades side, who will be relieved of the welter of the pressure that is on their shoulders on a weekly basis when they play in the league when they are the division’s big scalp.
Instead, all the strain will be on the hosts and more especially van Gaal, who can ill-afford a negative result and performance today.
Acknowledging the different dynamic, Adkins – whose Southampton side gave the Red Devils a scare before bowing out 2-1 in a fourth round loss at St Mary’s in January, 2011 – added: “There are comparisons to be made about our respective positions here.
“When teams come to Bramall Lane, look at their mindset. Some have scored terrific long-range goals against us. People raise their games when they come to us and we should raise our game there.”
Adkins says he firmly believes the club’s cup prowess of recent seasons and their recent uplifting form will serve as an inspiration for the Blades today.
While history may count against the Blades, who have lost on their last six outings to Old Trafford since goals from Tony Currie and Alan Woodward gave them a 2-1 Division One win on Boxing Day 1973, Adkins says his side should retain plenty of hope.
He added: “The previous cup runs will have given the lads belief. It’s been done before so it can be done again.
“We can draw on that, definitely, because there are players still here who were a part of those runs.
“There’s a growing belief among the players, I can sense it.
“We’ve been through a good December, there’s been a consistency of selection and there’s a growing spirit and belief about everybody.”
The pick of the action elsewhere sees Leeds United host Rotherham United, while Huddersfield, Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday host Championship rivals Reading, Brighton, Burnley and Fulham, respectively.
Doncaster Rovers welcome top-flight Stoke City in a glamour Keepmoat tie, while Bradford City visit League One rivals Bury.