Fringe men impressed - but Sheffield United's main actors summed up attitude that brought 2-0 FA Cup victory over Millwall

Before Chris Wilder sent his Sheffield United charges out of the away dressing room at The Den for yesterday’s FA Cup tie against Millwall, he used a nearby whiteboard to make a list of things he felt the home side would level against his side.

By Danny Hall
Sunday, 26th January 2020, 10:35 am

The surface was one, with The Den more closely representing a cabbage patch than a football pitch, and the fact United may be worried about injuries was another. All told there were five bullet points on Wilder’s list, although the manager couldn’t recall the fifth and neither could Ollie Norwood.

The main one, though, was about attitude. Millwall, Wilder felt, may expect United to rock up at The Den as a Premier League side and take their foot off the proverbial pedal; feel, subconsciously, that turning up would be enough to win the game.

If that was the presumption, then it is one that can very, very rarely – if ever – be levelled at this United side. The play of Wilder’s men was questionable at times, but their attitude was not. And in a game ultimately settled by two moments of real class, that proved the difference as the Blades booked their place in Monday’s fifth-round draw.

Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United thanks the fans at the end of the FA Cup match at The Den: Robin Parker/Sportimage

United’s attitude was spot on from minute one. Luke Freeman and Ben Osborn, two men who have found themselves on the periphery of Wilder’s first-team plans through the form of their teammates and no fault of their own, tore into challenges with a desperation to impress and both acquitted themselves well, as did the lesser-spotted Kieron Freeman at right-back.

But predictably it was United’s more established players this season who took the game by the scruff of the neck. Norwood in midfield was the only man on the pitch who looked capable of dealing with the challenges it posed; the delicious thud of his boot as he pinged a trademark ball to Osborn or Freeman ringing around a half-empty Den. Those who stayed away witnessed a real midfield masterclass from a man who is a joy to watch when in this form.

Jack O’Connell, too, for different reasons. Unsurprisingly for a man so committed his own teammates breathe a sigh of relief when they’re drawn on his side in training, he tore into every challenge as if it was his last but also used every ounce of his guile and experience to win what seemed like every challenge he went into against the likes of Matt Smith.

Billy Sharp up front was busy and could have finished the game with a goal and three assists. He had to make do with two of the latter, though, after teeing up Besic and Norwood; uncharacteristically he shot at Bartosz Bialkowski rather than around him, after finding himself one-on-one with the Millwall ‘keeper.

That would have put the gloss on a professional performance from Wilder’s men. But still, United are a round closer to a possible Wembley appearance and not many sides will fancy drawing them in the next round. Wilder wore the expression of a contented man at full time… but, as ever, will keep on demanding more.