Sheffield United: Why cup clash could be just the ticket

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MOMENTUM, as Sheffield United discovered to their cost last season, is everything in football, writes James Shield. As precious a commodity as goals.

The odds on Danny Wilson’s side lifting the FA Cup might be longer than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge naming their baby Bradley but tomorrow’s fourth round tie at Reading represents a golden opportunity to put some wind back in their sails.

Because, quite simply, this is a match they can lose and still come away feeling like winners. A pleasant break from the cloying air of expectation which envelops Bramall Lane.

Only seven years ago, these two clubs were both en route to claim promotion from the Championship.

Now, despite the fact that Brian McDermott’s side are not the most glamorous name in top-flight competition, they operate in completely different stratospheres.

Thirty-one places separate them in the English pyramid. The financial chasm is even greater with the hosts benefiting from guaranteed television revenues of over £30m while the visitors probably make do with less than a 30th of that amount.

While the £90,000 cheque which will be deposited in the victors’ bank account would scarcely be noticed by the Madejski Stadium’s bean counters, it could make a tangible difference to the way Wilson goes about his business due to the demands of SCMP.

Even so, given that promotion from League One remains United’s priority, producing a good performance is even more important.

With the likes of Kevin McDonald, Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy on their roster, Wilson’s charges possess plenty of technical ability.

But a run of only one win in five outings has raised question marks about their durability.

Hartlepool, Yeovil Town and most recently Notts County have all exposed the soft underbelly which can lurk beneath United’s stylish, tailored suit.

Supporters, coaches and players alike won’t care to be reminded. I’ll probably be castigated in cyberspace for raising the point.

But it was this same chink in the armoury which saw them pipped at the post in the most recent race for the Championship.

In terms of raw ability, United were probably superior to most, if not all, of those vying for position towards the top of the table.

But, shorn of leading goalscorer Ched Evans’ services, they eventually lost about because their rivals arguably possessed more Neill Collins, Michael Doyle and Richard Cresswell type characters who relished the ensuing dog-fight.

Charlton Athletic, who finished well ahead of the pack, weren’t flash. But definitely obdurate and feisty.

United, as they demonstrated on countless occasions earlier this term - even during May’s play-off final against Huddersfield Town - are capable of going about their business in a gritty, gusty manner.

Irrespective of the result, posing Reading problems would help them rediscover that same sense of destiny, purpose and self-belief.