SHAUN MILLER’S late brace could be the most important goals of Sheffield United’s season.
For they provide hope of much-needed funds being made available in the January transfer window through income generated by a run in the FA Cup.
A strengthening of the squad ahead of a League One promotion assault is something the young striker would welcome even if it could mean his place in the team being put under pressure.
With Dave Kitson out with a hamstring injury and Nick Blackman switched to a wide right position in which he is so effective, Crewe product Miller has been given a starting role in the last four games and he has responded with five goals.
It took until the 90th minute for him to net the equaliser on Saturday before grabbing the winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
It destroyed Vale chief Micky Adams’s hopes of a triumphant first return to Bramall Lane since his sacking last year following relegation for the Blades under this lifelong fan.
Adams was rightly far from despondent, however, as his League Two promotion-chasers had matched the Blades before succumbing to sustained second-half pressure.
Miller was delighted to be the match-winner after seeing an 81st-minute close-range downward header bounce over the bar. “I couldn’t believe how it went over, I think it came off my nose,” he said.
“I was thrilled to get the equaliser and then to get the winner in the last minute left me over the moon.
“We had dominated the second half and after the equaliser we saw four minutes come up on the board and we thought ‘there’s going to be another chance here’ and there was and we’re thrilled to get through to the next round.”
Miller’s first had come as he glanced home a cross from Ryan Flynn and the winner came after the same player had seen his shot parried by Chris Neal, who then blocked the follow-up from Richard Cresswell only for the ball to break to the predatory Miller.
“The FA Cup is the biggest cup competition and we were determined to get a win and our perseverance paid off,” he added.
“Clubs are always looking to bring in new players so if we have a cup run then that will be beneficial to the squad. Competition is always a good thing. You can’t rest on your laurels and no one does.
“Having a few players who could possibly play in your position certainly drives you on to be the main man.”
Manager Danny Wilson is delighted with the progress his 25-year-old striker is making, stating: “He has a lot of his game to improve and we know that so we are not going to start picking holes in him at this point. But he has that knack that some people don’t have – he can score goals.
“From a striker’s point of view you can have them running down channels and holding balls up but if they don’t score they are not acknowledged as strikers.”
Wilson admits his squad is down to the bare bones, adding: “Financially, anything is a bonus for us because at this moment in time we have got nothing.
“If we can generate some extra income, hopefully we might be able to put a bit towards bringing people in in January but we will have to wait and see. You saw our bench (on Saturday) and that was everything we had available.”
He suffered another setback before the second half kicked off when central defender Neill Collins was sick on the pitch and had to be substituted.
“He was sick before the game but, credit to Neill, he wanted to play,” said Wilson.
“We asked him how he was and he said he was okay but we saw that in the first half he wasn’t going up for free-kicks and corners and was trying to save himself, which is no good really. We don’t want anybody saving themselves.
“Before the second half we had another talk and we were going to have a look and see how he went but unfortunately he was sick and we had to bring him off.”
Collins’s partner Harry Maguire was responsible for the blunder which allowed Vale to open the scoring in the 33rd minute.
He attempted a foolish pass across his area from the right, Ben Williamson intercepted and set up former Rotherham striker Tom Pope to curl the ball into the far corner beyond George Long for his 21st goal of the season before racing to the touchline to celebrate with Adams.
Wilson defended his England Under-21 defender, saying: “You can count on one hand the mistakes Harry has made in the last two seasons so you have to say ‘unlucky Harry and make sure it doesn’t happen again’.
“It was just a lose pass and they took full advantage. It gave them something to hold onto which we didn’t want to happen, but credit to our lads for the way they came back.
“We kept trying to play through them and from that perpective it was using our brain rather than brawn that helped us a lot.”
Blades would have equalised much earlier had it not been for some inspired goalkeeping from Neal, although Long had made an equally important block on Jennison Myrie Williams just before Vale, backed by over 3,000 followers, had made the breakthrough.
Sheffield United: Long, Westlake, Maguire, Collins (Williams 46), Hill; Flynn, McAllister (Cofie 66), Doyle, Blackman; Miller, Porter (Cresswell 87). Unused substitutes: Philliskirk, Ironside, McFadzean, Coyne.
Port Vale: Neal, Duffy, McCombe, McDonald, Yates; Myrie Williams (Dodds 75), Burge, James, Vincent (Taylor 85); Williamson (Andrew 75), Pope. Unused substitutes: Loft, Johnson, Shuker, Davis.
Referee: K Wright (Cambs).