This match bore all the hallmarks of an FA Cup upset.
A third tier team going about their business with conviction and purpose versus top-flight opponents whose manager’s attitude towards the competition was seemingly as indifferent as his club’s recent results.
But what did surprise was the manner in which Sheffield United, who progressed courtesy of goals from Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn, bridged the 51-place gap between them and Aston Villa in the footballing pyramid.
Make no mistake, Saturday’s result was no fluke. Nigel Clough’s side thoroughly deserved to go through.
“There was no secret to what we did,” Murphy, who insisted he has no desire to engineer a transfer away from Bramall Lane during the transfer window, said. “It was just all about belief.
“We’ve got good players here, players who are good enough to compete at a higher level than the one we are at and this was achance to show that.
“I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. I fancy us to win every single game that we play in.
“That’s the way the manager has set us up after coming in. He wants us to go out there to try and be successful every single game.”
Murphy’s strike, his third since forcing himself back into Clough’s plans, set the tone for an afternoon which saw United ignore their status as underdogs and expose the deficiencies within Villa’s ranks.
Substitute Nicklas Helenius’ equaliser towards the end of the second half represented a huge test of character for the visitors who had earlier seen Flynn have three opportunities to extend their lead.
It was one they passed with flying colours when, with Chris Porter going close almost immediately after the re-start, Murphy’s fellow Scot, Flynn, sealed this third-round tie with an expertly-taken effort which saw him escape the clutches of two defenders before engineering enough time and space to fire a powerful shot into the roof of Jed Steer’s net.
“That was definitely my best moment in English football,” Murphy, signed from Motherwell 12 months ago, said. “Without a shadow of a doubt.
“I’ll be getting a copy of the DVD and I’ll be keeping it. It’s the type of thing that you’ll be happy to show to people for years and years.
“The manager told us afterwards that this is what we play football for, to remember it because this is what it’s all about.
“Right from the very start he told us: ‘Don’t settle for a draw. Go out there and try to win it.’ And fortunately that’s exactly what we did.”
Paul Lambert, the beleagured Villa manager, had caused uproar earlier in the week by claiming the majority of Premier League clubs view the tournament as a distraction.
Later claiming his words were taken out of context - “I’ve got the greatest of respect for the cup. It’s history and traditions,” he said - the former Norwich City and Colchester chief’s decision to select nearly £30 million worth of talent suggested they had indeed been misconstrued.
Nevertheless with Belgium international Christian Benteke delivering the type of profligate shift which underlines why he has now gone 12 games without hitting the target and Fabian Delph, previously of Leeds, a peripheral figure in midfield, he was forced to deny his comments had contributed towards Villa’s eighth home defeat of a chequered campaign.
Lambert insisted: “We picked the strongest team possible and one we felt was good enough to win that game. The lads will be hurting the same as the fans and I’m as gutted as everybody else. That’s magnified by the fact we’ve been beaten by a lower-league team but, and it’s important to say this, you’ve also got to give Sheffield United credit for going through.”
Although Murphy and the excellent Flynn applied the finishing touches, a disciplined defensive performance and combative display in midfield, where captain Michael Doyle was the dominant force, set in motion the chain of events which ended United’s 48-year wait for a victory at this stadium.
Villa enjoyed more possession but United used the ball more efficiently and wisely, making their tackles before spreading play towards the flanks. It was a simple but remarkably effective game-plan.
Clough, who has won seven of his 14 matches since taking charge of the South Yorkshire club in October, said: “I think the players found out a lot about themselves out there. Especially with regards to their self-belief.
“It’s demoralising to be a footballer when you are losing. So not having that horrible feeling in the pit of our stomach was the first thing we had to do.
“It’s no different to the cricket. Australia were on their backsides, won one Test and look what’s happened. The same principles apply.”
“We didn’t want to go out there and fight a rearguard action,” he continued. “It’s too dangerous against a team like Villa to just go out there and be content to sit back.
“We wanted to be positive, to use our wide men and to try and cause them problems.
“The lads showed a huge amount of character and an incredible amount of work, especially when you consider how busy the Christmas period has been, went into that.
“Hopefully now we can build upon this in terms of our confidence.”
Aleksander Tonev seemed Villa’s most likely source of goals during the opening exchanges, but it was United who pounced first when Murphy, released by Jose Baxter, cut across the penalty area before wrong- footing Steer with a low drive which deflected off Ciaran Clark.
Benteke inexplicably headed Marc Albrighton’s centre wide after finally escaping the clutches of Neill Collins and Harry Maguire while Flynn, who tormented Villa throughout, tested Steer on three occasions.
Helenius scored for the first time since a £1.2 millionmove from Aalborg last summer following Marcus Weimann’s assist but Flynn, after watching Porter blaze over the crossbar after seizing upon Baxter’s pass, restored United’s advantage.
“We played well,” Murphy said. “We were bright when we had the ball and kept our shape when we didn’t. It was important when we had it, though, that we used it well and that’s exactly what happened. We played some good stuff and I think we deserved the result.”