SHEFFIELD UNITED crashed out of the FA Cup this aftrernoon.
Hopeless romantics or simply a pair of sentimental footballing dinosaurs?
Danny Wilson and Chris Hughton both made no secret of the fact that the FA Cup still whetted their appetites on the eve of this eagerly- anticipated fourth round tie at Bramall Lane.
While many of their counterparts across all four divisions treat the world’s greatest domestic knockout competition with nothing but contempt, the managers of Sheffield United and Birmingham City had both spoken in passionate terms about the prominence it still enjoys on their respective calendars.
Their players showed plenty of bite, too.
Evans and Quinn both attempted to burrow their way through the City rearguard during the early exchanges with Burke also harassing Collins when the ball found its way to the other end of the pitch.
The two United players combined expertly in the fourth minute and nearly fashioned what would have been a delightful goal.
Lowton, making one of his trademark surges along the right flank, dispatched a low centre into Doyle’s penalty area and Evans, displaying excellent awareness, shaped to shoot only to deliberately step over the ball.
Quinn came within a whisker of connecting but City half-cleared and quickly closed down McDonald as he attempted to engineer enough space to try a drive of his own.
Three minutes later, Evans’ persistence saw him win a free-kick 25 yards from goal.
The angle was acute and Williamson’s delivery did not reach Doyle who had escaped his marker behind the City wall.
But United, who passed the ball confidently during the opening spell of an intriguing if not explosive half, displayed the intention to take the game to their Championship opponents.
The tournament had clearly captured the imagination of the blue and white half of Birmingham too, given the hugely impressive level of travelling support Hughton’s charges enjoyed.
In the 18th minute the visitors broke the deadlock.
Burke forced Jean-Francois to concede a corner which was whipped low towards the spot by Mutch and REDMOND applied the finishing touch to a training ground routine by powering home beyond Simonsen.
As the decibels in the away end were raised a notch further, so was the level of City’s performance.
Redmond flashed wide and Murphy charged forward before being halted by Maguire.
In the 38th minute, ROONEY doubled City’s advantage by firing the ball into the roof of Simonsen’s net after Elliott had sent Burke dashing down the wing.
United made a bright start to the first-half but City’s speed of movement and incisiveness on the counter-attack had proved decisive.
Half-time: Sheffield United 0 Birmingham 2
Wilson’s men began the second in exactly the same vein with Quinn and Evans both harassing defenders and McDonald again cutting a composed presence in the hurly burly of a congested midfield.
In the 52nd minute, a flurry of efforts from United saw the home fans find their voice. Williamson forced an excellent save from Doyle and in the ensuing melee, Lowton sliced onto a post.
A corner, taken by Quinn, soon after saw Cresswell steer the ball inches wide.
However, just as United looked set the force themselves back into the reckoning, a fine curling shot from ELLIOTT stopped them dead in their tracks and sealed City’s place in the fifth round draw.
Wilson will have found his players persistence encouraging - they had tried to puncture City’s resistance throughout - but when ROONEY snatched his second of the afternoon and the visitors’ fourth in the 79th minute after combining with Murphy, many home fans simply headed for the exit before McDonald blazed over.
Sheffield United: Simonsen; Lowton, Maguire, Collins, Jean-Francois; Williamson, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn; Cresswell, Evans.