JOHN Pemberton, Sheffield United’s academy director, paid tribute to his players following last night’s FA Youth Cup final first-leg tie.
Nearly 30,000 people watched United twice come from behind to hold their namesakes from Manchester to a deserved 2-2 draw.
Pemberton‘s side, who travel to Old Trafford for the decisive return on Monday, have been a rare success story at Bramall Lane this season.
With the first-team still coming to terms with being relegated from the Championship, he said: “Hopefully this will give the fans something to grab hold of. We want to change the way things are done here and we’ve started to implement those changes now.
“Playing the way we do will, hopefully, make it a lot easier for some of these lads to make the grade. Manchester United are a very good side. You don’t play for them if you’re not a very good player and if we’d have gone about our business in any other way - if we’d have given the ball away - then they would have hurt us.”
Pemberton added: “The boys, to be fair, have shown that type of character and resilience all the way through this run. It’s one of the things that has got them this far.
“We’ve seen the quality that Manchester United have got and, with their type of name, they can attract arguably the best talent in the world. So for us to compete with them like that makes me very proud.”
Manchester United took the lead in controversial circumstances when Jesse Lingard’s effort was adjudged to have crossed the line despite apparently being hacked to safety by Harry Maguire.
Callum McFadzean rifled home a superb equaliser before Jordan Slew, one of those expected to feature prominently at senior level next season, cancelled out Will Keane’s second-half strike with a deflected shot from range.
“We can go there without fear but we’ve seen what’s going to be required,” said Pemberton. “In the dressing room afterwards the boys know what’s required at the very top level now.
“I also want to thank the fans. For them to turn out in such numbers, means a lot to the lads and myself. It was nothing short of remarkable.”