Danny Hall’s Sheffield United column: A draw against Plymouth would send fixtures into chaos. So this game really is a ‘must-win’

Nigel Clough
Nigel Clough
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Quarterback. False 9. Zonal Marking.

All relatively new - and equally amusing - additions to football’s ever-expanding lexicon. Words that are picked up and re-used, sometimes without full understanding, by managers, journalists and fans alike.

Another of my favourites is when a manager, even before a league fixture in November, brands the upcoming game as a ‘must-win’ one. Can any encounter - apart from the obvious cup finals, or final-day relegation or promotion battles - be described as ‘must-win’?

Sometimes, they can. And one such instance is this weekend’s FA Cup clash at Bramall Lane, between Sheffield United and Plymouth Argyle.

But purely for administrative, rather than football, purposes.

For the FA and Football League will be keeping a close eye on Saturday’s second tie as it is, from their perspective, a ‘must-win’ game. Put simply, a draw - and subsequent replay - would cause absolute fixture chaos.

So what exactly the problem? Bear with me. The replay dates for second-round ties are December 16 and 17. United’s Capital One Cup tie at home to Southampton is on December 16. Plymouth, sources in Devon suggest, are keen for any replay to be played that midweek, with the FA Cup tie taking precedence. Local ‘paper, the Plymouth Herald, says talks between the Football League and the FA have already taken place on the issue, with nothing resolved. Seemingly, they are content to cross their fingers and hope for a result either way.

FA Cup rules prevent any replay taking place on Tuesday evening, when both clubs have a free date. That leaves December 23 and 30 - which will please neither club, in an already-packed schedule. United play on December 20 and 26, while Argyle play on Boxing Day and face Oxford United two days later on December 28. The next possible date is January 3. Which also, unfortunately, happens to be FA Cup third round weekend! Any replay could also be chosen for live TV coverage, with the BBC or BT Sport expected to have a big say in the date of any game.

There are no guarantees that the powers-that-be will take both clubs’ circumstances into account when deciding a date. So don’t be surprised to hear both Nigel Clough and John Sheridan label this weekend as a must-win game!