Danny Hall: Can Sheffield United use an FA Cup run to inspire an against-the-odds Premier League survival?

He may only be 24 years of age, but Oli McBurnie has been in football for long enough to know that there's no such thing as a bad game to win.

Monday, 8th February 2021, 5:00 pm

Sheffield United know that as well as anyone. Their season may or may not still end in relegation, but the mini-run of form that has at least given them a fighting chance that no-one from the outside afforded them actually began with an unglamorous FA Cup win down at Bristol Rovers.

The eyes of the world would have been elsewhere that weekend, and considering United's form it probably wouldn't have been too much of a shock had the League One side triumphed over the one from the Premier League.

But United's victory that day was the first of five in eight games and there was some pride in the three defeats, too, coming against Spurs, Manchester City and Chelsea.

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It's a return to cup action on Wednesday night when United host Bristol City, with a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals at stake. That's the stage the Blades reached last season, before being knocked out by a late Arsenal goal, and as McBurnie admitted after the Chelsea game: "You can't beat that winning feeling, no matter what competition it's in."

Chris Wilder, the United manager, was in the stands at Wembley when Nigel Clough led the Blades - then of League One - to the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 2014, losing to Hull after a hell of a battle under the iconic Wembley arch.

Wilder had a few pints of Guinness that day but will well remember how that FA Cup run turned around United's season. The Blades were in the League One relegation zone when Clough took over, but the current Mansfield Town boss used the momentum of the cup run to transform his side's league fortunes and come the end of the season, they remarkably finished only a place outside the play-offs.

It goes without saying that getting wins in the Premier League is an altogether different prospect than getting them in League One, but there are obvious parallels between the two seasons and situations. Is it so inconceivable that United could progress further in the FA Cup and use that as a springboard to seal the most unlikely of survivals?

Sheffield United fans pose for a photo outside Wembley, before the FA Cup semi final against Hull City: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Sheffield United fans pose for a photo outside Wembley, before the FA Cup semi final against Hull City: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

United are very rarely found wanting for attitude and application. Remarkably, they still appear to be a together group despite their fortunes this season - teams don't win away at Manchester United if the dressing room has been lost, or whatever nonsense cliche is thrown about.

What they do lack is a bit of quality, and a bit of belief. As we've seen with United's dry January in the transfer market, the former isn't coming easy. So United's best bet appears to be by loading up on the latter.

Yes, survival remains a tough ask. Recent good results from the likes of Newcastle, Brighton and Burnley are threatening to cut the current bottom three further adrift. But be sure these players will give it a damn good go, beginning on Wednesday night against Bristol City. There is no such thing as a bad win in football.

Nigel Clough used the FA Cup to turn Sheffield United's season around in 2013/14: Stephen Pond/PA Wire.
Chris Wilder, manager of Sheffield Utd, during the match against Chelsea: : Simon Bellis/Sportimage