Belief in each other key to creating FA Cup memories, claims Kozluk

Kayode Odejayi holds his head as the Cardiff players celebrate
Kayode Odejayi holds his head as the Cardiff players celebrate
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The FA Cup, a competition that has not been overly kind to Yorkshire football in recent years, returns this weekend with four of our clubs looking to make the last 16. Richard Sutcliffe reports.

For Sheffield United fans, it is surely David Seaman’s wonder save which most readily springs to mind while for those whose loyalties lay with Barnsley, it is Kayode Odejayi’s glaring miss.

Yorkshire may not have enjoyed too much success in the FA Cup over the past two decades, but the world’s oldest knockout competition remains capable of creating moments that supporters will remember for the rest of their lives.

This weekend will see four clubs carry the county’s hopes into the fourth round. Sheffield United, the heroes of the last round from a White Rose perspective after knocking out Aston Villa on their own patch, have what most closely resembles a glamour tie thanks to Premier League Fulham being the visitors to Bramall Lane.

Steel City rivals Wednesday, meanwhile, travel to Rochdale as Hull City go to Phil Brown’s Southend United and Huddersfield Town host Charlton Athletic.

Even allowing for the Cup’s propensity to shock, at least three – and, considering Fulham’s hapless performance in losing 6-0 at the KC Stadium on their most recent visit to Yorkshire, maybe all four – will fancy their chances of being in Sunday’s fifth-round draw.

A kind draw in the last 16 and supporters really could start dreaming of enjoying the kind of run that will go down in history.

“The Cup gets a bad press at times, but I absolutely love it,” said Rob Kozluk, the one link between Yorkshire’s last two 
FA Cup semi-finalists – Barnsley in 2008 and the Blades five years before that.

“I always loved the history of the Cup and, as a player, saw it as a break from the day-to-day pressures of the league. I am sure the fans feel like that, too. It is why even years after a big Cup game, fans still come up to me and talk about them.”

Kozluk’s run to the semi-finals with both Barnsley and the Blades means supporters of either club have plenty of matches to pick from when accompanying the full-back down memory lane.

It could be United’s quarter-final win over Leeds, then of the Premier League, at Bramall Lane or the unfortunate loss to Arsenal at Old Trafford that saw Seaman effectively end the final dream of Neil Warnock’s men by clawing Paul Peschisolido’s header to safety.

Alternatively, if the fans he meets are from Barnsley, there is the last-gasp win at Liverpool to discuss along with the magical evening when Chelsea were humbled at Oakwell.

Failing that, the semi-final defeat to Cardiff City at Wembley is likely to get a mention and, to Kozluk, this is why those who decry the Cup are well wide of the mark.

“The FA Cup still excites fans and any players lucky enough to go on a good run,” said the 36-year-old full-back, who now plays for Ilkeston in the Northern Premier League.

“At home in my games room, I still have a picture on the wall of the scoreboard after Barnsley had won 2-1 at Liverpool.

“I got Ray Parlour’s shirt after the Arsenal semi-final but, as a rule, I didn’t bother with that sort of thing. While some of the lads would try and get a shirt from one of the Chelsea or Liverpool lads after a big match I was never one for doing anything like that. My thinking was that they were no different to us.

“Yes, we were playing against these big name players but I would have found it embarrassing to ask for their shirt.”

That famous win at Anfield came after Barnsley had seen off Blackpool and Southend United in the third and fourth rounds.

“Games like Liverpool and then Chelsea in the next round are the ones that make a career,” added Kozluk. “What I mean by that is I don’t really remember much about the earlier rounds or even who we played.

“But, if you get on a good run, then it is great for everyone involved. The further you go, the more hype there is during the build-up, too.

“Beating Liverpool and Chelsea obviously helped. Before both games, we were probably expecting to get beat.

“But then, once the game was under way and we did all right in the early stages, you realise that you do belong on the same pitch as these players. They are only human, after all.

“Having said that, let’s be honest, if we had played Liverpool or Chelsea 1,000 times then they would probably have beaten us in 999 of them.

“But it was our day in both matches. We upped our game and they probably didn’t reach the standards they expected.”

The joy Kozluk felt after both those famous victories in a Barnsley shirt and during the run that took the Blades to the semi-finals was in stark contrast to the emotions he felt after those losses to Arsenal and Cardiff.

“I am the nearly man, I suppose,” he says with a wry smile. “Things could have been so different ,but that is life. I was always a strong believer in that a script was written for a reason and in both those semi-finals it just wasn’t meant to be.

“Cardiff got the goal and that was that. I know everyone blames Kayode (Odejayi) for missing the one-on-one. But none of the lads blamed him then and I doubt anyone blames him now.

“It was just Cardiff’s day and that is that.

“As for the loss to Arsenal, I still speak to Pesch (Paul Peschisolido) and he says what a great save it was by Seaman. I always reply. ‘Yes, but it was also a s**t header as well.’”

The players of all four remaining Yorkshire sides still in the Cup will be hoping to create similar memories in this season’s competition. Asked if he had any advice, Kozluk replied: “Just believe in each other.

“For Barnsley, I would see Bobby Hassell make a cracking tackle and that would just make me want to do the same. We all fed off each other.

“That allowed the momentum to build up and that became stronger the longer our run continued. They have to believe that this season it can be them.”