THE managers of both Hull City and Sheffield United last night insisted that the key to prevailing in this weekend’s eagerly-anticipated FA Cup semi-final will be to treat it as a normal game.
Wembley will host only the fourth all-Yorkshire last-four tie in the competition’s long history and with tens of thousands of White Rose football fans set to descend on the capital, a grand occasion is guaranteed.
Both Steve Bruce and Nigel Clough, however, insist that their respective sides cannot afford to get caught up in all the excitement and sense of anticipation.
With that in mind, the two clubs have both broken with tradition and spurned the opportunity to enjoy a pre-match visit to Wembley. The Yorkshire duo have also decided against attending tomorrow’s first semi-final between Arsenal and Wigan Athletic to ensure their routines remain as normal as possible.
United chief Clough said: “This is not a day out. That is why we are keeping our preparations and routine as the same. That way we expect the attitude and approach of the players once the game starts at 4.07pm on Sunday to be the same as it has all season.
“We will train in Sheffield at 2pm (tomorrow) and then get the bus down to St Albans at 5pm. We will watch the Arsenal v Wigan game as we travel south.
“It is our normal routine, right down to deciding not to have a look round Wembley or anything like that.
“We could have gone to the other semi-final but I didn’t even want that. Instead, we will just get to Wembley an hour and a half before the game on Sunday.
“That is a deliberate thing. We didn’t want to take everyone down early and mess our training arrangements up. There is no real time on Sunday morning to see it, either.
“The good thing is the majority of our lads have been to Wembley and played there before anyway.”
Thanks to United having played in the 2012 League One play-off final, Clough’s squad boasts more players with Wembley experience than their East Yorkshire rivals.
Only Tigers’ Tom Huddlestone, Ahmed Elmohamady and Liam Rosenior have appeared at Wembley, but manager Bruce has aped Clough in insisting his players do not need a pre-match walkabout.
Instead, Hull will train in Cottingham as usual tomorrow before heading south.
Bruce explained: “We won’t do anything different. We want this to be like a normal game. We don’t want to give the players any excuses.
“We had Thursday off, we are then in Friday and Saturday and our preparation will be the same as usual.”
Bruce’s adherence to routine extends to telling his players his starting XI. He added: “I know the team, but the players don’t.
“I will tell the players the team on Saturday. It is always the most difficult thing to tell players who have done so well for you and given everything for you that they aren’t in. You wish you could play 15, but you can’t.”
Clough, meanwhile, will inform his squad of his starting XI no earlier than 90 minutes before kick-off, as he has done before every previous round in the Cup.
He added: “Everyone will be involved. We only have an 18-man squad. That is the thing with having a smaller squad, everyone has a chance to be involved. It can be demoralising to sit in the stand on a big occasion like this.
“I think the players will appreciate sticking to our routine. The only change is we are staying in St Albans and the hotel will be a bit nicer than where we usually stay. But the lads deserve that after getting this far.”
The winners of Sunday’s semi-final will play either Arsenal or Wigan in final on May 17.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the side that does prevail will not necessarily be guaranteed European football next season even if the Gunners can get past Wigan.
This is because the Cup runners-up only go into the Europa League if the team who beats them in the final has already qualified for the Champions League.
At present, Arsenal occupy fourth place, but should Arsene Wenger’s side slip out of the top four by the end of the season and then win the Cup, the third and final Europa League place would go to the team finishing seventh in the Premier League, currently Manchester United.
Manchester City’s League Cup triumph means sixth will bring European football next term.
For now, both Bruce and Clough are merely focused on getting to the Cup final and not whether a first tilt at European competition as a manager could be beckoning.
Mind, when asked about the possibility of taking Hull to the continent, Bruce joked: “We’ll all go on EasyJet, will we?
“It shows you how far the club has come. We’d have to overcome that hurdle – and it is a hurdle for a club like ours – the squad would have to be bigger and better. We would probably need two squads.
“But we would try our best and enjoy it. It would be quite remarkable. Hull to be playing in Europe would be terrific. Why not?
“But, equally, that is a long way in the future.”