Sheffield United will face a gruelling FA Cup trek two days before Christmas if Plymouth Argyle earn a replay from today’s tie at Bramall Lane.
The Blades host John Sheridan’s Argyle in a second-round match this afternoon, but with a Capital One Cup quarter-final against Southampton to squeeze in this month, a draw today would mean a long trip to Devon with Tuesday, December 23 the likely date.
The 600-mile, 11-hour round trip would mean United not getting back to South Yorkshire until the early hours of Christmas Eve and is an added incentive for manager Nigel Clough and his Blades players to finish the job at the first time of asking today.
“The big incentive for us is to go through and also without a replay,” said Clough, who is also on the road on Boxing Day at Port Vale in League One.
“Of course, we’ll take one of those if we’re losing with five minutes to go, but we want to go out there and get the job done.
“John (Sheridan) will have plenty of incentive to win this one. He’s ex-Wednesday and I think they’ll be looking forward to the game.
“In the second round, there will have been one or two names that people will have wanted to draw and Sheffield United are one of them as our home form is not very good.”
United have struggled for results at Bramall Lane recently. In their last five home games, they have won once – at home to Crewe in the FA Cup first round – with defeats to Barnsley and MK Dons, and draws against Oldham and Notts County.
But Clough has been happy with performances and believes the Blades have deserved to put more points on the board.
“This game has probably taken on an added significance because of our recent results at home,” he said.
“There’s an element of frustration there as well because we don’t feel as if we’ve played badly.
“And, during the run, our best two performances, against Barnsley and MK Dons, have been the two defeats.
“We deserved more from those but, as is sometimes the case in football, you don’t always get that.
“We’ve played worse and won the game like, for example, at Colchester where we were pretty poor for 81 minutes but came through in the end.
“But that also is what gives us the optimism going forward.
“The lads could not have given any more in terms of effort against MK Dons.
“We almost feel like telling them not to attack as much, but we want to be on the front foot, especially at home.
“To restrict a team like MK Dons, who are based on attacking flair, to so little was good.
“Karl Robinson said afterwards that he couldn’t believe they’d won but they did and we’ve just got to stick with it.
“This is where the experienced players are so important because they know there are times during the course of a season when things don’t bounce for you in either box.
“But it will turn. We’ve just got to get back on the bike and stick with it because it will turn.”
Many teams chasing promotion would like to avoid the distraction of cup runs, but winger Ryan Flynn believes the Blades actually prefer a busy fixture list.
This is backed up by last season’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals coinciding with nine straight wins in an 11-game unbeaten run.
In between causing FA Cup shocks against Fulham, Charlton and Nottingham Forest, United also powered up the League One table only to fall just short of the play-offs.
“We have been looking to win every game, every competition, since the gaffer has been here and our record is pretty good,” said Flynn.
“Whatever the competition, we are looking to go as far as we can. There’s no looking to give priority to any game; Saturday is important and we will be looking to reach the third round and get one of the big boys again.
“We like that. We want to win every game, I don’t think you can just turn it on and off.
“Last year when we had all the games people said we needed the rest, but I think last year when the games were coming thick and fast we were at our best.
“Players prefer playing games than training, so three games in a week is good. The key thing is getting our form back.
“Last season, we went on a 10- or 11-game winning run, whatever competition it was, and we went flying up the league table.
“Winning games becomes second nature, and we have not found that yet this season.
“We have done well in the league cup, and we want to continue that in the FA Cup.
“We are in an okay position in the league, but we want to do better. Our form lately at home has not been great, so, hopefully, we can pick it back up.”
Chris O’Grady misses out today with a calf injury, but the loan striker could be back for the League One trip to Fleetwood next Saturday.
“Chris has had a scan and we’re hoping he should be okay for Fleetwood,” said Clough. “We’re hoping. If not, then it will be Walsall after that.”
Teenage striker Che Adams is cup-tied after playing in the earlier rounds with Ilkeston.
“Che has been on the bench in all of the last few matches, but it’s never been quite the right moment to bring him on.
“Ideally, we don’t want to do that if we are chasing a game. But it’s only a matter of time before he does get out there.”