Blades looking for Cup shock to kickstart season

Sheffield United's Marc McNulty.
Sheffield United's Marc McNulty.
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GOAL-SCORING hero Marc 
McNulty believes Sheffield 
United’s Capital One Cup heroics will help kickstart the club’s faltering promotion push.

The Blades banished recent wobbles in the league to upset the odds on Tuesday night and book a place in the last four with a deserved victory over Premier League high-flyers Southampton.

United’s reward came last night when paired with Tottenham in the semi-final draw, the first leg scheduled to take place at White Hart Lane on either January 20 or 21 with the return at Bramall Lane a week later.

McNulty said: “Getting to the semi-finals could do massive things for our season. Southampton have been flying in the Premier League and we can only take belief from beating a team like that.

“The league has to be our priority. We were thinking about that straight away after the final whistle.”

Twenty-two year old McNulty, a summer signing from Livingston, netted the all-important winner against the Saints to fire United into what will be their second appearance in the last four of a major competition in as many seasons.

He added: “For me, getting the goal was brilliant. I had heard so much before about what happened last season (when the Blades reached the FA Cup semi-final).

“I missed out but was good friends with some of the lads in the team so watched the games.

“I was a bit jealous about not being out there and being part of it. But, hopefully, we can get there again this year.”

United’s Cup heroics – they knocked out West Ham United in round two – have been in stark contrast to their league form in recent weeks.

The club’s last win in front of their own fans in League One came on October 21, this four-game winless run in S2 being a major factor in why Nigel Clough’s men now trail the automatic promotion places by nine points.

What the Blades need now is a run similar to last season, when their charge towards the FA Cup semi-final went hand-in-hand with a storming end to 2013-14 that took the club from the relegation zone to seventh on the back of just two defeats from the final 19 games.

Clough said: “We are hoping the Cup run can have a similar effect to last season. It would be lovely if it could galvanise us.

“I don’t think our home performances have been too different to that this season. The difference against Southampton is we got the break for the goal. Hopefully, we can start to do that in the league now.

“People will mention QPR (who United face in the FA Cup third round on January 4) and the possibility of us winning but it is important we get some league points on the board before then. We have three games before the cup, starting with Walsall.”

United’s victory on Tuesday night was made all the more remarkable by how stretched the squad had been by injuries and key men being Cup-tied.

Midfielder Chris Basham, for instance, filled in at centre half, while right winger Ryan Flynn played at right-back.

Louis Reed, just 17, also starred in midfield, while Che Adams and Keiran Wallace finished the game just a few weeks after turning out for Ilkeston in the Northern Premier League.

No wonder Clough is still purring about his Roy of the Rovers team.

He added: “Put it all in the mix and it is a bit of that (Roy of the Rovers). Chris Basham also epitomised the spirit.

“We have a lot of unsung heroes and our strength is we play as a team and fight together as a team.”

Tuesday was certainly a night that will live long in the memory of those fortunate enough to be present and the manner of United’s performance means they are unlikely to be fazed by facing Spurs in the semi-finals.

Jamie Murphy, one of several heroes against Southampton, said: “We are in the League Cup semi-final so it was always going to be a good team (that we drew).

“At home, we can do our best and put on a good performance. Away from home, you never know what can happen.

“It will be difficult, don’t get me wrong. But we are looking forward to it.”

On the prospect of what will only be United’s second appearance in the League Cup semi-finals, manager Clough added: “Two legs makes it a bit easier (for teams from a higher division). But we love Cup competitions here.

“The supporters do as well. You play 46 league games and it can become a slog at times. But the Cup provides the special bits and the highlight of a season.

“It didn’t matter who we got (in the last four), it was always going to be a special evening.”

Murphy, a veteran of last season’s FA Cup run, agreed. He said: “(Captain) Michael Doyle got us together after the final whistle (in a team huddle) and it was a good moment, all the boys together in front of the Kop.

“Turning round afterwards and all the fans being right there, it was pretty special.

“Moments like that you remember for the rest of your life,” he added.