ONLINE POLL - Richard Sutcliffe: FA miss the bullseye by miles with crazy timing of draw

Sheffield United's players and fans celebrate Chris Porter's first goal against Nottingham Forest. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Sheffield United's players and fans celebrate Chris Porter's first goal against Nottingham Forest. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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“LET’s take a look at what you could have won.”

Comedian Jim Bowen, when presenting the classic TV darts gameshow Bullseye, became famous for uttering these words to contestants who had just missed out on landing the big prize.

As the crestfallen losers followed Bowen’s lead and took that closer look at what was invariably a speedboat or a caravan, the dejection was tangible and it felt almost cruel, as a viewer sitting at home, to intrude on their grief.

That, though, did not stop Bullseye – which ran for 14 years from 1981 – becoming such a staple part of the nation’s Sunday afternoon entertainment that up to 17m viewers would tune in.

Last Sunday, I was minded of Bowen and those poor losing contestants trying to put a brave face on their disappointment.

I was at Bramall Lane and the FA Cup fifth-round tie with Nottingham Forest was around 40 minutes old.

The Blades were trailing 1-0 and with Forest unbeaten in 16 games, there seemed every chance that the Yorkshire side’s Cup run could be over before the end of the afternoon.

At that point, news filtered through of the draw for the next round. The winners of that afternoon’s tie at the Lane would host either Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton Athletic in the last eight.

Cue celebratory scenes among the 5,000 away fans housed at one end of the ground and the striking up of every football fan’s favourite tune ‘Que sera sera’.

As for United, the locals bore the same look as those poor Bullseye contestants from years ago. They had been given a glimpse of the main prize and yet, within the hour, chances are it would be snatched away.

On the touchline, Nigel Clough was oblivious to the details of the quarter-final draw. So, too, were his United players.

Once in the home dressing room at half-time, however, the Blades’ manager was given the news.

As he revealed afterwards, it took him a few seconds to decide whether or not to pass on the information.

“I had ummed and ahhed for a few seconds,” admitted Clough immediately after the Forest game, “but then I thought, ‘What the hell? Let’s tell them’.

“A few of the lads didn’t believe us. So, when we got back in after the second half I told them, ‘I was joking earlier, lads, we have got Brighton or Hull away in the quarter-final.’”

From a Blades perspective, everything ended well. Conor Coady’s equaliser and a late double from Chris Porter, pictured right being mobbed by fans, meant United triumphed 3-1 to reach the last eight.

Now, we just need Wednesday to fulfil their half of the bargain and beat Charlton in next Monday’s rearranged tie to confirm the first Steel City derby in two years and, arguably, the biggest in a generation.

Let us hope that happens as not only would a Sheffield derby be a fantastic, if nerve-shredding, occasion but it would also mean at least one Yorkshire club walking out at Wembley on the weekend of the FA Cup semi-finals.

That said, I could not help feeling as the news came through of a potential Sheffield derby in the quarter-finals that it was ludicrous for the draw to have taken place with one fifth-round tie not even at half-time.

There was also one more tie to be played that afternoon and another – Hull’s trip to Brighton – the following night. It was a crazy state of affairs and one that opened up the FA, who, of course, were working at the behest of the TV companies, to accusations of unduly influencing how managers approach a Cup tie.

Would United have mounted such a marvellous second-half fightback without the carrot of a possible derby in the next round?

Probably. But we will never know for sure.

The same goes for Monday night’s tie at Brighton. Had, for instance, Hull gone into that game at the Amex knowing a trip to Manchester City awaited in the quarter-finals rather than the more winnable prospect of Sunderland at home, Steve Bruce might have been tempted to rest all his star names with tomorrow’s vital league game at Cardiff City in mind.

The Cup has enough problems right now. The FA adding to those with crazily-timed draws is, to paraphrase Bowen, far from being super, smashing, great.