ARCHIE KNOX, a former Manchester United assistant manager, was the first to coin a phrase that Steve Bruce has since adopted as his own.
“We’re so close to Wembley I can smell the hotdogs,” is how the Hull City manager famously described his side successfully negotiating the FA Cup fifth round a couple of years ago.
Knox, when working under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, had first uttered the phrase to Bruce and his team-mates during their run to the Cup final in 1990.
Almost a quarter of a century on, the former Red Devils captain felt it neatly summed up the Tigers’ own position.
Considering how Hull went on to reach the first major final in their history just a couple of months later, it underlines just what is at stake tomorrow for Yorkshire’s two remaining representatives in the Cup.
Hull travel to Arsenal as Leeds United head to Watford. Two ties that, even allowing for the inevitable personnel changes that top-flight managers make in the competition these days, are as tough as they come.
By rights, neither the Tigers nor Leeds should progress tomorrow. Or, considering that both oppositions currently reside in the top half of the Premier League, even force a replay.
This, though, is the Cup.
Last month’s fourth round was such a non-event that the closest we came to a shock was Sheffield Wednesday of the Championship crashing out to a team from the division below.
But upsets do happen and if either of the White Rose duo can get through then a trip to Wembley – and the chance for fans to buy a hotdog or two – will be tantalisingly close.
Steve Evans is under no illusions as to how tough a task his Leeds side face tomorrow against a team he regards as “the second biggest Premier League success story behind Leicester”.
“To some, it may not be seen as an upset (if Leeds win),” said United’s head coach. “But in the football world, it will. This is a club that is sitting ninth in the Premier League and they have only lost at Vicarage Road to the giants of England – Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United.
“I think other than that they have been sweeping all before them. I watched them recently draw at Chelsea and it took Chelsea 61 minutes to get a shot anywhere near Watford’s goal, such was the quality of the performance. It may not be seen as a shock outside the Premier League, but it would be.”
Yorkshire has a chequered history in the fifth round. For every famous giant-killing act pulled off by a side from within the Broad Acres, there has been an equally spectacular humbling.
Leeds fans of long-standing still shudder at the memory of Don Revie’s great side losing at Colchester United in 1971.
Happier reminiscences include Barnsley’s win at Liverpool eight years ago and Ferguson’s United being beaten in a 1998 replay at Oakwell, York twice holding Liverpool in the mid-Eighties and Bradford City, then of Division Four, going to top-flight Norwich City and ramming the pre-match taunts of John Bond back down his throat with a stunning 2-1 triumph.
Victory for Hull at Arsenal would be up there with those famous White Rose upsets, especially as Bruce plans to ring the changes to ease the workload of a squad currently embroiled in a 10-game run inside 35 days.
“We have got a squad strong enough to cope with a Cup run, but does that mean we will go to Arsenal and win?” said the Tigers’ chief, who is weighing up whether to play 16-year-old Josh Tymon after his successful bow at Bury in the last round. “We can only try our best. Our schedule is ridiculous, but, it is what it is, so we will go to Arsenal and play all the players that need a game.
“I will tell all the supporters now that we will go with those players that need the minutes most. We took that approach in the League Cup and then at Bury (in the fourth round). I have to say it is a very different challenge, but those players will be fresh and raring to go.
“It will be good for us because a few desperately need a game. (Adama) Diomande, (David) Meyler, Alex (Bruce), (Harry) Maguire, Nick Powell will all play. It is a fantastic game to play in and one to enjoy. There is no better place to go and play than the Emirates. Let’s go and enjoy the occasion.”
Bruce will not be the only manager tomorrow rotating his squad with Arsene Wenger having one eye on next Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Barcelona.
Watford do not have any European distractions, but Evans still believes forecasting their likely starting XI is tough. “I have bought three lottery tickets, And I have more chance with those than guessing what team Watford will play,” quipped the United head coach yesterday.
As for the possibility of Leeds being in Sunday night’s quarter-final draw, Evans, who will be without top scorer Chris Wood due to a virus, added: “The last eight is a real prize for us. If there was a replay, it probably puts 30,000 in Elland Road.
“I have always said give us anyone at Elland Road and the way I think this team can play, we will have a real opportunity to get through to the quarter-finals.
“But, first and foremost, we can’t speak about that because we are going to face one of the best sides left in the competition. I believe that 100 per cent.
“We are taking 4,500 supporters and the ticket office people tell me we could have sold 15,000. It will be a fantastic atmosphere and I just want to give those supporters a performance they can be proud of.”