Hull City v Sheffield United: Arch-rivals urged to take chance to be history boys

FA Cup semi-final build-up.
FA Cup semi-final build-up.
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THEY may work in different divisions. And they may have had contrasting seasons.

But the message from Yorkshire’s two FA Cup semi-final managers tomorrow will be the same: Don’t have any regrets.

Tens of thousands of White Rose football fans are set to descend on Wembley as Hull City take on Sheffield United with the prize of a place in the May 17 final at stake.

For Steve Bruce and Nigel Clough, big occasions are nothing new after successful playing careers at the top of the English game.

Interspersed with the Cup triumphs and league title successes, however, was the odd nightmare that continues to haunt both Bruce and Clough right to this day. And it is those memories that the two managers will have in mind when delivering the all-important final team-talk shortly before kick-off.

Blades chief Clough said: “The clear message will be to not have any regrets. I will tell the players, ‘You don’t get many opportunities, don’t waste it’.

“As much as losing a game at Wembley is bad, it is nothing compared to thinking afterwards: ‘We should have won that.’

“I had it once in my career. The (1991) Cup final against Spurs (with Nottingham Forest). There was a chance to get us at least a draw but it didn’t work out. I try not to have regrets in life but that one is a regret for me. It was the only FA Cup final of my career.

“And the fact I still feel like that now, all these years on, shows that you have to seize every opportunity.

“If you give it everything but it wasn’t meant to be, you get over those quicker. But the others, they take a lot longer. We don’t want to feel like that on Sunday night.”

Bruce, whose side sit two divisions and 44 places above the Blades, appreciates that Hull are favourites with the bookmakers to face either Arsenal or Wigan Athletic, who meet this afternoon at 5.07pm, in the final.

But, just like Clough, the City manager’s message to his squad will be all about seizing the moment.

He said: “The worst thing you can do in a big game is have regrets. I remember me having a nightmare at the Nou Camp (when playing in 1994 for Manchester United in a 4-0 defeat).

“I went there and thought: ‘Wow!’ I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other, which I don’t think was because of nerves. The fella (Romario) I was playing against was just very good.

“It happens, but you have to try and enjoy the occasion. I keep saying to the players: ‘You only enjoy Wembley by winning.’ So, by hook or by crook, we have got to do the business and we need our big players to perform.”

Bruce played three FA Cup finals at the old Wembley in the Nineties and one semi-final. His bow at the national stadium, however, came for Norwich City in their 1985 League Cup triumph over Sunderland.

With many in the Hull squad having not previously played at the national stadium, Bruce appreciates how nervous several of his players could be feeling come tomorrow afternoon.

He said: “Six months before that final, I was playing at Gillingham (in Division Three). As a footballer you always want to play at the highest level and at Wembley you have to go and enjoy it. You have to think to yourself: ‘Wow, here it is.’

“I did that day (for Norwich) and we won 1-0, and I got the man of the match trophy.

“We have to play the game, not the occasion. You hope Wembley doesn’t get the best of you because then you’re goosed.

“We have enough experience of playing at the Etihad and the Emirates, and that stands us in good stead. That said, the FA Cup is the FA Cup. There will be nerves jangling and rightly so, but it is how you control them.

“You would hope our experience gives us the edge but Sheffield United have had a remarkable run. They are a big club playing in Division One and, eventually, they will get back to where I feel they should be.”

One side will make history tomorrow, with City bidding to reach their first final. The Blades, meanwhile are hoping to become the first team from outside the top two divisions to battle through to an FA Cup final.

Another motivation for the League One side is their woeful record at Wembley, with four visits since 1993 having resulted in four defeats and just one goal scored.

Clough added: “We are on the verge of history. We know we are in League One and under no illusions about that. But this is not a normal League One club. We are not one of the minnows of English football.

“As for the record at Wembley, it means nothing. If anything, it is an added incentive. We want to change. We have changed a few things this year, why not another?

“The good thing for the supporters is that even if we lose, it won’t be the end of the world. Unlike the play-offs, when your whole season rests on just one game.”

As for the match itself, Clough added: “Our chances are slim. We are playing a team two leagues above us. And with the quality the Premier League teams have, they are going in as huge favourites. I can’t see how anyone can argue with that.

“But being underdogs has agreed with us. That is why I haven’t seen many writing us off. That is testimony to what the players have done in previous rounds.

“We are trying to second guess what Steve will do. At the moment, we think (Matty) Fryatt might play up front with (Sone) Aluko. They are both better than what we face in League One, week in and week out.

“The midfield is also very strong. (Tom) Huddlestone’s passing ability is great while they get crosses in from wide through (Ahmed) Elmohamady. As for us, it is difficult to say who our match winners are.

“I see that as one of our strengths. Teams can’t say: ‘Stop him and you stop Sheffield United’. We haven’t got one key player. We have a few in (Jamie) Murphy, (Conor) Coady, (Stefan) Scougall, (Ryan) Flynn, (Jose) Baxter.”