Sheffield United are on their way to Wembley, thanks to a stunning Tommy Doyle strike
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Just as missed opportunities appeared to have cost them a place in the FA Cup semi-finals, against a Blackburn Rovers side who also put their heart and soul into this utterly breathless game, up popped Oli McBurnie and then most memorably Tommy Doyle to send Paul Heckingbottom’s side through to the national stadium where they will face Manchester City.
“We kept going, the lads showed a lot about themselves,” the United manager said, before turning his attention to Doyle’s brutal coup-de-grace. “Tommy’s got that in his locker. He’s shown it when it matters.”
The general consensus beforehand was that this match, between two teams challenging for promotion from the Championship, would be delicately poised. It was, with second-placed United twice falling behind before Doyle’s piece of brilliance settled the contest.
“I saw it and gave it a good wallop,” he said, understating the brilliance of a long-range strike which nearly broke the Rovers net. “Fortunately it went in. We made it tough for ourselves at times but it’s great to go through.”
Heckingbottom and Jon Dahl Tomasson had made early statements of intent by selecting strong elevens. United’s decision to name a number of their highest-profile names on the bench, however, was intriguing. Suggestions Bramall Lane could be experiencing a changing of the guard were predictably downplayed beforehand, with McBurnie the only change to a team which had beaten Sunderland four days earlier. But Heckingbottom clearly enjoyed the youthful exuberance he had witnessed at the Stadium of Light, given that Doyle and James McAtee were again preferred over Oliver Norwood and John Fleck in midfield.
McAtee was presented with United’s first genuine opening, when Aynsley Pears saved his angled drive. Rovers settled the quicker, with captain Lewis Travis slipping at the vital moment as he prepared to test Wes Foderingham.
But once the inevitable nerves had passed, an absorbing tie ensued. One with an undercurrent of grievance from United’s perspective, following the decision to award Rovers a penalty midway through the first period when a VAR check ruled Jack Robinson had handled Sam Gallagher’s shot before it was expertly saved by Foderingham. Ben Brereton-Diaz made no mistake, meaning he has now scored all eight of the spot-kicks he has taken in English football excluding shoot-outs. The call appeared harsh but, having duly been booked, Robinson was fortunate to escape a second caution for a foul soon after.
United immediately responded with a fortuitous but deserved equaliser. When Sander Berge’s corner was cleared the ball fell kindly for Max Lowe, whose opportunism was rewarded thanks to a wicked deflection which wrong-footed Pears.
Both sets of players were intent on forcing the issue, although a combination of hesitant finishing and Foderingham’s dexterity ensured the next twist did not come until the hour mark; a defensive lapse, a slip and then Brereton-Diaz’s slide-rule pass allowing Sammie Szmodics to convert.
But if Rovers thought they were through, United had other ideas. McBurnie levelled again, from the acutest of angles before Doyle produced a finish fit for any stage.
“Football can be cruel,” said Tomasson, who earlier saw Ryan Hedges hit the woodwork. “Congratulations to United. But we are upset to lose.”