Paul Peschisolido is convinced Sheffield United can spring an FA Cup upset when they entertain another of his former clubs this weekend, writes James Shield.
Fulham, 47 places higher on the footballing pyramid, visit South Yorkshire for Sunday’s fourth round tie confident of preventing Nigel Clough’s side from reaching the next stage of the competition for the first time since 2009.
But Peschisolido, a veteran of the United team which blazed a trail into the semi-finals 11 years ago, believes that harnessing the spirit of that remarkable run can help them bridge the sporting divide.
“There’s a huge gap between the top-flight teams and everyone else,” he told The Star. “So Fulham will be the favourites to go through and understandably so.
“That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will as we demonstrated way back then. The secret of our success, the thing that made us such a handful, was the spirit we had in the dressing room. We felt like we were invincible and, no matter who we were paired against, that we’d beat them.
“Having that type of mood, that type of atmosphere behind the scenes, is no guarantee of success. But you know what? If you’ve got it then it does make a surprise result much more likely. It can take you a hell of a long way. Self-belief is absolutely key.”
United, who dashed Aston Villa’s hopes of progressing in the previous round, enter their encounter with Rene Meulensteen’s team full of confidence after impressing against League One rivals Bradford City last weekend.
That result, coupled with their recent exploits in the Midlands, means they are unlikely to enjoy the element of surprise against opponents embroiled in their own battle to avoid the drop.
However Peschisolido, who made 102 appearances during two spells with United, identified several factors which could work to their advantage.
“Fulham, like all the Premier League clubs, have so much information at their disposal now that they’ll know everything about United’s squad. They’ll have scouted them, noted their strengths and weaknesses on paper before looking at them in even more detail on the training pitch this week.
“But the one thing that you can never take into account is how much players from a lower division raise their game in situations like this. Honestly, the United lads, providing their switched on properly, will find an extra 10 or 20 per cent because it’s a massive opportunity for them. The same, with respect, isn’t the same for Fulham as they’re expected to win the game.”
Peschisolido, now aged 42, commanded a £1.1m fee when he moved to Craven Cottage from West Bromwich Albion in 1997.
Having scored 30 goals during three seasons in the capital, the Canadian was initially signed by United’s then manager Neil Warnock on loan before completing a permanent transfer to Bramall Lane six months later.
The highlight of his time in South Yorkshire, a dramatic cameo during 2003’s Championship play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest apart, was helping United dispatch Cheltenham, Ipswich, Walsall and Leeds en route to their meeting with Arsenal at Old Trafford earlier that year where, having seen referee Graham Poll’s poor positional sense set in the motion the chain of events which led to Freddie Ljunberg scoring the game’s only goal, he forced a save from David Seaman the goalkeeper subsequently described as the best of his career.
Peschisolido, who later represented Derby County before taking charge of Clough’s former club Burton Albion, said: “They’re very different people but there’s also a lot of similarities between Neil and Nigel. They’re both managers who place a big emphasis on old school values like hard work and respect for your team mates. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“That’s why, just like they did for Neil, I know players enjoy being in Nigel’s teams. Because he breeds a good spirit behind the scenes and he doesn’t tolerate things which jeopardise that.”
Despite their miserable away record - Fulham have tasted success just three times on the road this term - Meulensteen has an abundance of talent at his disposal including Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent.
Nevertheless, Peschisolido warned United they can not afford to show their opponents too much respect.
“The game in the Premier League is much, much quicker,” he said. “But, at the same time, you tend to get a lot more room to operate up there.
“For instance, if you’re a striker, a centre-half will stand off you a little bit because he expects you to have a good first touch. He won’t get too tight.
“When you are the team from lower down, you’ve got to be aware of what you’re up against but also find a way of taking your opponents out of their comfort zone. Making sure they find themselves in the type of match they’re not used to playing.”
With Sunday’s tie being broadcast live on television, a small army of reporters descended upon the Redtooth Academy when United opened their doors to the media yesterday.
“You’ve got to embrace all the hype that goes with games like this,” Peschisolido said. “Soak it up and take it on board but, at the same time, not let is cause a distraction. Just enjoy it.”