SHEFFIELD United ended Salisbury City’s hopes of extending their cup run to seven wins, despite a last-gasp burst to salvage a 3-0 deficit.
City were the lowest ranked team remaining in the competition and so a large victory seemed likely for Sheffield United given their current form in the league.
The FA Cup has been kind to the Blades this season – all of their games have been drawn at home – but Sheffield United supporters have hardly relished the chance to watch weaker opposition visit The Lane.
Only 10,500 fans were scattered between the two allocated stands and, with the Kop redundant for the occasion, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly overwhelming for the Salisbury supporters who had made the trip.
In a similar fashion to last weekend’s meeting with Hartlepool United in the league, a comfortable win was to be expected of the home side, despite any hangovers from their mid week loss to Carlisle.
The home and away supporters were united in a minute’s applause having heard the news of Gary Ablett’s death earlier this week – Ablett appeared briefly for the Blades in 1996.
The game began brightly with both teams battling in the true spirit of the FA Cup.
The early encounters of the match saw Sheffield United in complete control of the possession and, whilst the home side pushed forward for an early breakthrough, the away players seemed content with limiting the damage.
This season, Danny Wilson has fortunately had more attacking options at his disposal than his predecessor Micky Adams, with the arrival of Porter and Beattie.
Porter has been a useful addition to the side this season, netting six goals prior to the game in all competitions and, soon enough, his name was on the score sheet for a seventh time.
With 18 minutes on the clock, Porter completed a slick counter attack with a cool finish every bit as classy as the build-up play from Lee Williamson.
Whilst Salisbury lacked the quality needed to assert themselves in the tie, United lacked determination and inspiration to double their advantage.
Opportunities to score another goal were frequent for the home side and, despite sloppiness creeping into United’s play, clear-cut chances were missed by Evans and Williamson.
United would have to settle for a 1-0 lead at the break, after a first half of missed opportunities.
Shortly after half time, Wilson decided to change the system, replacing the goal scorer, Porter with Beattie, and Flynn for Cresswell.
Doyle and the ever impressive McDonald had quite rightly earned their place in the set-up for the second period and, with Ertl filling in at right back for the injured Matt Lowton, there wasn’t an obvious (fit) replacement.
With the increased threat, a second goal seemed inevitable and it came as an almost instant reward for Wilson’s attacking move.
After a bombardment of shots on the Salisbury goal, finally, McDonald’s shot was turned in by Ched Evans – in the right place at the right time.
Evans’ intervention certainly won’t be a goal of the season candidate, but it provided Blades supporters with the second goal they had been demanding for nearly half of the match.
Ched Evans, usually United’s most exciting player, had an uncharacteristically uneventful first half but, within the blink of an eye, the Welshman was heavily involved again.
When his shot was fired dangerously across goal, Webb’s botched clearance sent the ball past a wrong-footed Mark Scott, to seal The Whites’ misery.
With the game seemingly decided, the final twenty minutes weren’t thrilling to say the least, with neither side looking enthusiastic about scoring the game’s fourth goal.
But when Macklin netted an unexpected goal in the 86th minute, the travelling fans roared loudly, encouraging their players to ignite a heroic comeback, which moments before seemed totally impossible.
The goal certainly gave the away side renewed belief of a return match but the late surge wouldn’t materialise into goals.
Beattie, whose entrance into the game was met by a reception as warm as ever, had a golden opportunity to score his first goal of his second spell at the South Yorkshire club, but he couldn’t convert his flicked effort.
After an exciting conclusion to a disappointing fixture, the referee’s whistle sounded to half-hearted cheers around the ground, as United progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
By Sam Fletcher