THEIR march into the final of the FA Youth Cup has been a triumph of substance over style. Of tenacity over tradition. Application over avarice.
Sheffield United might not enjoy the same prestige and profile as their namesakes from Manchester. But when they entertain Paul McGuinness’ side in the first leg of what promises to be an enthralling contest one thing the South Yorkshire club will not be short of is support.
“It is a fantastic response,” John Pemberton, United’s academy director, said after learning that nearly 30,000 will cram into Bramall Lane this evening.
“I just want to thank the supporters for turning out in such numbers.
“It genuinely means a lot to both the lads and myself. I think it speaks volumes about the type of fans they are and how they’re ready to back this club to the hilt.
“It’s phenomenal. It really is.”
Having never progressed beyond the last four of this prestigious competition, United made history when they dispatched Aston Villa, last season’s beaten finalists, in the previous round.
By stark contrast their opponents, who ended Chelsea’s hopes of retaining the trophy, will be hoping to lift it for the 10th time following Monday’s return at Old Trafford.
With the likes of Jordan Slew, Harry Maguire and Matthew Harriott all earning their senior spurs in recent weeks, Pemberton’s team promises to be laced with experience. But, the former United and Leeds defender struck a note of caution when asked whether encouraging performances at Championship level will necessarily translate themselves onto the academy stage.
“It’s a good thing in one sense because those lads who have been involved know what it’s like to play in front of crowds like this,” Pemberton said.
“But in another sense it puts a lot more pressure on their shoulders.
“When they’re in the first team people will forgive them the odd mistake because they expect it. People will help them in that regard because it’s something they accept is going to happen.
“When they come back into this age group I’m not so sure they’re going to get the same leeway, but it’s all part of their development.
“They’re going to learn a lot about themselves and I’ll learn a lot about them.
There is a school of thought that those best equipped to forge successful professional careers have yet to appear in the first team.
Captain Elliott Whitehouse, eligible for selection despite being sent off against Villa, is a spiky presence in midfield alongside combative Joe Ironside while Callum McFadzean has the technical and tactical nous Pemberton is trying to instil in all his players.
“We’ve been doing some training sessions at the Lane because I want the boys to be used to the dimensions of the pitch,” he said.
“But we’ve been mixing them up with our usual work at Shirecliffe and that’s because, when they walk out, I still want it to feel like an occasion for them - something special that they can hopefully feed off and remember.”