ALMOST 21 years on from the all-Steel City affair at Wembley, Sheffield United are taking centre stage again in the FA Cup.
The Blades’ captivating cup story of 2013-14 will gain considerable lustre by virtue of an appearance at the home of football next month, the first third-tier side to grace the new-look Wembley in the last four.
They are only the ninth side from the third tier to reach the semi-finals of the world’s most enduring cup competition, emulating Wycombe (2000-01), Chesterfield (1996-97), Plymouth (1983-84), Crystal Palace (1975-76), Norwich City (1958-59), York City (1954-55), Port Vale (1954-55) and Millwall (1936-37).
Ecstatic Blades supporters bathed in Spring sunshine on this most glorious of Sunday lunch-times at S2 – expect them to be basking in the glow for a good while yet.
Unitedites’ senses have been filled by a run which began in early November and will still be full of vitality well into April.
Their ditty of choice at the final whistle was not their adopted anthem Annie’s Song, but Doris Day’s classic Que Sera Sera, which reverberated around Bramall Lane with a stirring tannoy airing.
It heralded the Blades’ ninth win on the trot, sealed in the space of 103 seconds in the second half, which ignited a hitherto nervy encounter.
The opener arrived out of nowhere on 65 minutes when Ryan Flynn ghosted onto Jose Baxter’s centre and stabbed the ball past Ben Hamer.
Just under two minutes later, John Brayford was supplied by Jamie Murphy and let fly with a crisp low shot, a deflection off former Sheffield Wednesday defender Richard Wood enabling it to beat Hamer.
The Blades’ fans who dared to dream of Wembley – and a first cup semi-final appearance since 2002-03 – were now able to start formulating plans in earnest.
Expect the club’s bank manager also to be smiling with the victory taking their cup proceeds to around the £2m mark.
Following the delirious scenes at the end – no pitch invasion this time around – Blades players went back out on the pitch to salute fans in the 30,048 crowd, their biggest home attendance since the victory over Stevenage in the League One play-off semi-final second leg in May 2012.
The T-shirts they wore said it all – ‘We’re all going to Wembley’ – and while it may have been a touch presumptuous to have them made before the completion of yesterday’s game, it all worked out well in the end.
What will be, will be. Charlton, by contrast, now have just a relegation battle ahead of them, their emotions the polar opposite to those they experienced across the city at Sheffield Wednesday a fortnight ago.
Their jubilant manager Chris Powell had swung on the crossbar at the final whistle at Hillsborough in the previous round on February 24 to show his delight.
A bar of a different sort was probably what many Addicks fans who had travelled up from London were contemplating at the final whistle, to drown their sorrows after a desperately disappointing day.
For Callum Harriott – who netted in their 2-1 victory over the Owls – there was particular cause for reflection,.
The winger somehow contrived to miss a glorious chance on the hour mark.
Manager Powell later described it as the game-breaking moment, with the visitors punished twice in quick succession not too long after.
Befitting a game where the stakes were unquestionably high, it was tense, cagey stuff in the first period.
Attacking the jam-packed Kop, in front of which they had produced a thrilling second-half display in the memorable win over Nottingham Forest in round five, the Blades failed to conjure anything resembling a re-run.
They could not be marked down for their industry, but threatening moments were scarce.
One did arrive just before the interval when Bob Harris fired a curling effort over and while the Blades did find the net on 37 minutes through Conor Coady’s rising shot, his celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag.
The action was largely frenetic, with Charlton’s best opportunity coming towards the half-hour mark when ex-Owls forward Marcus Tudgay saw his low shot turned away by Mark Howard.
Early half-chances from the Blades saw Neill Collins and Baxter – whose return to the starting line-up was one of seven changes made by Blades boss Nigel Clough – off target.
A fair few Charlton supporters among their 5,200 throng arrived after the kick-off.
But, in truth, they had not missed too much, with the visitors’ raids comfortably repelled by the Blades.
On the restart, a nifty turn and shot from home centre-half Harry Maguire, which flew into the side-netting, represented the closest either side went to breaking the impasse before Harriott’s horrific miss.
The hosts switched off from Johnnie Jackson’s free-kick with Tudgay playing in Harriott, some eight yards out, and Howard stranded, but he could only fire wide with the goal at his mercy.
United’s double-whammy exposed the gravity of the miss.
A brilliant late save from Howard to deny substitute Reza Ghoohannejhad was the closest Charlton came to reducing the arrears and the glory belonged to the Blades.
Sheffield United: Howard; Brayford, Maguire, Collins, Harris; Flynn (McGinn 90), Coady, Doyle, Murphy; Scougall (Porter 86), Baxter (Davies 81). Unused substitutes: Hill, Miller, Long, Freeman.
Charlton Athletic: Hamer; Wilson (Ghoochannejhad 71), Morrison, Wood, Wiggins; Cousins, Poyet (Green 71), Jackson, Harriott; Church (Ajdarevic 65), Tudgay. Unused substitutes: Hughes, Dervite, Thurum-Ulien, Nego.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancs).