Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough said rising expectation will make it harder for his players to repeat their third-round heroics against Premier League strugglers Fulham on Sunday but would not rule out another FA Cup upset.
The Blades, languishing in 20th in League One, provided one of the biggest shocks in the third round earlier this month when goals from Jamie Murphy and Ryan Flynn secured them a fully merited 2-1 win at Aston Villa, writes Mark Walker.
The manner of their performance at Villa Park made a mockery of their current league position, but Clough is under no illusions as to the size of their next challenge.
Asked if his side could do it again, Clough said: “We certainly can.
“There’s no reason why we can’t, but it will be a little more difficult this time.
“Because we’re at home the expectations are a little bit higher, there was none at all on us going to Villa Park.
“Some people are suggesting an upset is on the cards, but it would be that. We’ve got to remember they’re two divisions above us and the quality they have throughout their squad of 25.
“The fact they’ve got a (Premier League) game 48 hours later at Swansea might affect their team selection, I don’t know, but they’ll still have enough quality on display to hurt us.”
Blades fans were expecting another promotion push this season, but following a disastrous start under David Weir they instead find themselves in a relegation fight.
When former Burton and Derby boss Clough replaced the sacked Weir in October, his remit was to halt the club’s slide towards the fourth tier.
Fulham are also staring at a relegation scrap this season. A single point is all that is keeping the Londoners, under new manager Rene Meulensteen, out of the bottom three.
The air of optimism around Bramall Lane, said Clough, is not just the FA Cup working its old magic and warping the senses.
“The expectation is down to the performance and the fact it wasn’t a fluke at Villa Park,” he said.
“People have perhaps thought if we can play like that away from home and our last two home performances have been good, maybe we can repeat it, but a lot will depend on Fulham and how they approach the game.
“If they are 100 per cent at it and play well on the day there might not be too much we can do about it.”
Clough, who hopes to add Cardiff defender John Brayford and Livingston midfielder Stefan Scougall to his squad in time to face Fulham, is also mindful of his side’s current league plight.
“In terms of Saturday, Wednesday and the following Saturday against Peterborough and Crewe are more important for us,” he added.
“So we’ll pick the team for this one, try to get a positive result and then we’ll deal with Peterborough afterwards.”