MICKY Adams claims a cabal of under-performing Sheffield United players were responsible for hastening his exit from Bramall Lane but there were no questions marks about the Blades’ character during this FA Cup tie.
Trailing to Tom Pope’s first-half strike, the League One club appeared to be heading out of the competition at the second-round stage until two late goals from Shaun Miller wrecked Port Vale’s
hopes of causing an upset.
Danny Wilson, who succeeded Adams in South Yorkshire, has no such concerns about United’s commitment, but attributed their latest success to ingenuity rather than industry.
“What pleased me was the way they kept on playing their football,” he said. “They didn’t panic, stuck to their principles and got the job done.”
Miller echoed those sentiments - “It would have been easy to start lumping the ball forward” - before revealing a desire for atonement had been the driving force behind his own dramatic contribution.
“I was delighted to get those goals,” Miller, who pounced twice in the final four minutes, said. “I’d missed an absolute sitter earlier and I still don’t know how it didn’t go in, but fortunately I made up for that. Port Vale played well, really well, but I thought we dominated second half.”
Miller, who glanced home a Ryan Flynn cross before converting following a skirmish in the penalty area, added: “The FA Cup is the biggest knockout tournament going and we want to go as far as we can.
“I think the way we dug in and kept on going showed our commitment to it.
“It shouldn’t be a distraction (to the league) at all and if we can make some money out of it then that could help us to strengthen the squad even more.
“But, as players, that’s not our incentive. All we want to do is win games and keep trying to get through the rounds.”
It takes something quite special to overshadow a predator like Pope but Miller, having seen a defensive blunder present the former Rotherham marksman with his 21st of the season, produced exactly that to ensure United’s Herculean second-half effort was not in vain.
Miller seemed destined to become a bit-part figure in Wilson’s plans this season after initially struggling to hold down a starting role following a summer move from Crewe Alexandra.
However, after tweaking certain aspects of his game, Miller is now one of the first names scribbled on United’s teamsheet and he will enter tomorrow’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash at Coventry City searching for his sixth goal in five matches.
“My fitness was probably at a lower level to the rest of the lads when I first came in,” Miller acknowledged. “I was never short of confidence but obviously being involved more and scoring means that’s getting stronger and stronger too.
“My biggest strength, though, is probably awareness around the box, trying to get in the right place at the right time and reading where the ball might land.
“It’s something I work on during training but we’ve got so many experienced attackers here, I’ve picked up so much from just watching them in action too.
“Coming here, hopefully, really has made me a better player.”
Despite Vale being a division and 22 places below United on the footballing pyramid, Wilson had warned they would pose a rigorous test of his team’s credentials.
And so it proved as Adams, 19 months after failing to prevent the club he supports being rele
ed from the Championship, watched the visitors come within four minutes of extending their unbeaten run to seven games.
Adams, speaking on the eve of Saturday’s contest, had blamed that failure on poor attitudes within a section of the home dressing room.
“Some of them just weren’t prepared to work as hard as me,” he said.
Nearly two years on, though, and United have gone a long way towards repairing the damage caused by the most chaotic campaign in their recent history.
Nevertheless, despite that high-profile and very painful blot on his CV, Adams remains a manager of considerable prowess.
At Vale Park has fashioned a team in his own feisty image and, with chairman Paul Wildes’ recent takeover dragging them out of administration, the visitors seem destined to finish towards the top of League Two.
Having seen goalkeeper Chris Neal keep United at bay following Pope’s intervention, they
were on course for yesterday’s third-round draw too until Miller wrestled back the advantage.
“We couldn’t see the job through but I’m proud of the lads,” Adams said. “We’ve come to a great club like United and gone toe to toe with them. We’ve showcased ourselves and should take great heart.”
United, who saw defender Neill Collins succumb to a sickness bug before the start of the second half, looked laboured and sluggish after seeing Nick Blackman twice go close during the early exchanges.
When a rare slip from Harry Maguire set in motion the chain of events which ended with Ben Williamson and Pope exchanging passes for the latter to score, it seemed as if their lack of precision and intensity would be costly.
However, with Blackman leading the charge, United improved immeasurably.
Neal thwarted the former Blackburn Rovers youngster before seeing Miller inexplicably head into the turf from point-blank range.
The United centre-forward, though, made no mistake eight minutes later and then promptly snatched the winner after Flynn’s drive had been saved.
“We just want to keep on getting results and do as well as we can every time we go on the pitch,” Miller said. “I think we deserved it in the end.”