ONE leading bookmaker reckons there is more chance of Julian Assange escaping the Ecuadorian Embassy on a jet-pack than Sheffield United lifting the FA Cup.
Trailing David Clarkson’s early strike and thoroughly abject in terms of performance, even the second round stage, let alone Wembley, seemed beyond the visitors’ reach at the midway point of this combative, feisty contest.
That was until a furious outburst from manager Danny Wilson prompted the change in attitude and approach which enabled his players to break Bristol Rovers’ stoic resistance.
“The gaffer came in and gave us a bit of a b********g,” Kevin McDonald, the United midfielder, said. “He told us if we didn’t get our act together, we’d be going back home on the bus thinking ‘how the hell have we gone out?’
“We knew ourselves that we weren’t good enough to start with. We weren’t anywhere near the standards we know we can reach.
“But we got our heads down and got through in the end. We were much better in the second-half and the main thing about the cup is to go through. Not the performance.”
Chris Porter, with his first goal of the season, was the only United player to escape Wilson’s wrath during the interval.
By his own admission the former Derby County centre-forward has endured a difficult start to his career at Bramall Lane. A combination of factors, including niggling injury, have prevented him from rediscovering the form which once made him one of the most sought-after marksmen in the lower leagues.
However, with Dave Kitson nursing a hamstring complaint that threatens to rule him out of United’s trip to Swindon Town tomorrow, Porter has seized his opportunity in emphatic fashion.
Demonstrating a physical edge to his game which has seldom been in evidence throughout his first 16 months in United colours, Porter engineered the opportunity for Nick Blackman to equalise before pouncing himself from close range.
“Ports was terrific out there for us and we owed him,” McDonald, whose centre led to the 28-year-old’s effort, acknowledged. “I was speaking with Doyler (Michael Doyle) at half time and we both commented on how strong Ports looked.
“He’s not had the easiest of times here but he showed what a good player he is.
“If Ports gets a chance then he’s going to score you a goal. It’s as simple as that.”
“Credit to Rovers, they were pressing us so hard and we didn’t get anytime in the ball whatsoever,” McDonald added. “We probably thought we’d get more time than we actually did.
“If Ports hadn’t been holding the ball up like he was then we’d have been in even more trouble. We’d have been under even more pressure because the ball would just have kept coming back.
“He won absolutely everything out there. Every single flick on and he’s getting his reward for working so hard.
“We know what he’s all about.”
Paint was still being reapplied to United’s dressing room wall when Blackman underlined their renewed sense of purpose with a sumptuous finish which left Rovers’ Sam Walker, deputising for the ineligible Neil Etheridge, rooted to the spot.
Blackman, who travels to the County Ground searching for his 10th of the campaign, is unlikely to convert a more stylish effort this season,
But he was indebted to Porter for threading an incisive pass through Rovers’ defence following Shaun Miller’s touch.
“It was a goal out of absolutely nothing,” Mc Donald said. “Nick has scored quite a few penalties this season and whatever people might say, that’s an art in itself.
“But that finish - well - it just showed what a classy player he is.”
With Wilson and his opposite number Mark McGhee boasting nearly 2000 matches worth of managerial experience between them, United afforded their League Two opponents the respect of naming a near full-strength side with Miller the only change to the team which had started against Portsmouth five days earlier.
Nevertheless it was Rovers, with Garry Kenneth and Tom Eaves making their considerable presence felt, who took control when Derek Riordan robbed Ryan Flynn before releasing Clarkson.
Flynn and Riordan exchanged chances and Tony McMahon floated a curling shot just wide of the far post.
But United, who until then had been outthought and outfought, emerged a much more formidable proposition after the break and could have extended their advantage when Porter, having finished off Neill Collins’ flick on, saw a header cleared off the line.