Sheffield United: Paul Peschsolido still curses Arsenal legend
Sheffield United were still drinking their way towards the mother of all hangovers when Dean Henderson first met David Seaman.
Forty-eight hours after effectively being promoted from the Championship, and 24 since their Premier League status was confirmed, Chris Wilder and his squad travelled to the outskirts of the city to attend The Star's end-of-season awards. Other famous faces from across the world of football also featured on the guest list. But when Henderson was named the region's young player of the year, none of them were better qualified than Seaman to present him with his commemorative trophy.
The conversation which followed - between an uber confident 22-year-old who believes he is the finest goalkepeer in England and someone recognised as such for nearly a decade - was even more entertaining than the showreel of their greatest moments being beamed onto a screen at the back of the room. With one notable exception. When footage of Seaman's remarkable block during the 2003 FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and United scrolled into view, the entire audience fell silent.
Sixteen years on and the striker he denied is still unable to fathom how the former England international pulled it off.
"If you look at the video, I was already celebrating," Paul Peschisolido, the centre-forward whose header allowed Seaman to showcase his brilliance, said ahead of tomorrow's meeting between the clubs at Bramall Lane. "I had my arm in the air and I was getting ready to go on a little run over to the crowd. Then, out of nowhere, I just saw this hand appear. And that, as everybody knows, was that."
Peschisolido was describing the moment when Seaman, who it would later emerge was playing his penultimate match for the Londoners, appeared to defy the laws of physics inside Old Trafford. With only six minutes remaining, and Arsenal clinging on to the slender lead they had enjoyed since Freedie Ljungberg's first-half strike, Michael Tonge's corner caused pandemonium inside the penalty area. Peschisolido appeared destined to profit by dragging United level. Until - and by his own admission he isn't quite sure how - Seaman arched his back and clawed the Canadian's header to safety after appearing to change direction mid-air. It was a save he would later describe as the greatest of his stellar career.
For very different reasons, every detail of the episode is seared into Peschisolido's mind.
"I didn't say anything to him, I just stood there open mouthed, but looking back it was actually really cruel," he said, reflecting upon the hat-trick of heart-breaks United suffered during that campaign. "We had also got to the semi-finals of the League Cup and gone out in those, and we'd later get beaten in the Championship play-off final as well. I really do think the lads deserved better that year. A trophy or a promotion. Even, after everything the boys had done and gone through, just getting to a final would have been good. But thanks to David, that wasn't to be."
"Everything seemed to happen in slow motion," Peschisolido, who had been summoned from the bench only five minutes earlier, continued as he traced the ball's route onto his head. "Tongey swung a corner in, Pagey (Rob Page) got his head to the ball and then Sarbs (Carl Asaba) swung his foot at it. Then, it started coming over to me.
"To be fair, the ball actually came a little bit behind me. That meant, to generate some power, I had to change my posture a bit. Looking back, if I hadn't have caught it quite as clean, it might have gone in. But even so, he (Seaman) had no right whatsoever to keep that ball out. Unfortunately, that's what he did."
Arsenal would go on to lift the trophy, beating Southampton in the final, while Neil Warnock's United were left wondering what might have been. When they renew their rivalry – this time in Premier League competition – Peschisolido will be hoping his old club can exact a degree of revenge.
"That should have been a game changer," he said. "It could, when you look at what might have happened, been a career changer too. I've crossed paths with David a few times since and to be fair, because he's a nice guy, he always apologies for it. I don't think, in fact I know, he doesn't really feel sorry for us though. Mind you, because he was able to show that strength and that agility at his age, I reckon that got him another big money move. So I've told him, it's only fair that I should get a cut of that contract. It should be shared around between all of us United lads because we gave him to platform to do it."
Despite being aged 39, Seaman went on to join Manchester City following Arsenal's victory over Gordon Strachan's side at the Millennium Stadium before announcing his retirement soon afterwards.
"Everytime United play Arsenal, it always gets dragged up again," Peschisolido smiled. "If I'm honest, yes, it still hurts a little bit because, like I say, I thought we deserved more from that season. But then again I suppose David's save means I'm not going to get forgotten about now my own playing career is over. Because everytime people talk about it, they'll always have to bring my name up."
With United gaining promotion back to the top-flight earlier this year, Peschisolido and Seaman have both found themselves back in the spotlight ahead of a fixture which pits Chris Wilder's squad against opponents ranked fifth in the table.
"It's great to see United back where they are," Peschisolido, who joined them from Fulham in 2001, said. "How can you not be impressed by the job Chris has done? It's been brilliant. There's just no way to criticise anything that's happened there."
"One of the things I really like is that the dressing room just seems to be filled with normal blokes," Peschisolido added, drawing parallels between Wilder's team and the one Warnock built. "And that's what the fans at United want to see; people playing good football but above all else, giving everything for the shirt. I know our one did and, from the outside looking in, with everything you hear, you can see that Chris' dressing room also runs itself."
Peschisolido would eventually leave United 11 months after Seaman's acrobatics settled one of their most memorable meetings with Arsenal. If their latest encounter is going to prove the same, albeit in more pleasing circumstances for the hosts, Peschisolido believes Henderson could have a crucial role to play. Particularly after receiving his first senior England call-up earlier this month.
"I might have been a striker but it's essential you have confidence in your 'keeper," Peschisolido said. "Even at the other end of the pitch, you can go about your work with so much more freedom and ease if you've got that trust in them."