Sheffield United: How rock-hard Regan ‘cemented’ FA Cup win ... Ipswich Town 0 Blades 1

Regan Slater celebrates victory. Pictures: Simon Bellis/Sport Image
Regan Slater celebrates victory. Pictures: Simon Bellis/Sport Image
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Two incidents, both involving Sheffield United players, dispelled the myth that the FA Cup is becoming an irrelevance.

First, after scoring the goal which edged Chris Wilder’s side into the fourth round draw, Nathan Thomas refused to be substituted despite being injured.

Then, having entered the fray when his teammate eventually succumbed to a calf problem, Regan Slater thwarted an Ipswich Town attack with the type of tackle many feared had become extinct in the 70s.

The challenge elicited a handsome tribute from Wilder - “He’s cemented their lad, absolutely cemented him. That was my personal highlight” - and a promise from the youngster to do his utmost to ensure that football remains a full-contact sport.

“I just think, when you go in for it, you’ve got to give everything, and that’s what I did,” Slater said.

“I do that every time. It’s part of my game but it’s slowly drifting out.

“I’ll do my best to keep it there.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting stuck right in.”

Slater’s performance was not the only encouraging aspect of a tie which, despite promising little, proved hugely profitable for the visitors.

While his opposite number, Mick McCarthy, was left to sift through the wreckage of another lamentable knockout display - Ipswich last won a match in the tournament eight years ago - Wilder found himself enthusing about the attitude of his squad, the application of its most senior members and, of course, the latest talent to roll off the Steelphalt Academy production line.

Nathan Thomas scores

Nathan Thomas scores

A dream come true

Slater, aged 18, might be small in stature but he boasts a mighty big heart. Most importantly, however, the teenager burns with the same type of hunger to perform for United as his manager, who has also grew up supporting the club as a child.

“It’s a dream to be doing this,” Slater continued. “Everyone young boy dreams about playing, and if they’re not playing then they’re watching.

“It means so much to be given this chance and I’m just doing my best to try and take it.

“It means a lot more when it’s ‘your’ club too. Winning means a lot more, everything you do means a lot more.

“You wear the badge with so much pride and, if I wasn’t out there on the pitch, I’d be up there in the stands cheering the lads on.”

Although Slater’s coming-of-age moment dominated the post-match agenda, another youngster, 23-year-old Thomas, sealed United’s progression.

The former Hartlepool winger has enjoyed precious few opportunities to impress since arriving at Bramall Lane during the close season but, producing a thunderous shot which left Bartosz Bialkowski grasping at thin air, was on target for the second time in as many starts, having also found the back of the net during his debut earlier this term.

Together with Ben Heneghan, Thomas appears destined to leave Bramall Lane on loan before the end of the transfer window.

Nevertheless, both the quality of his finishing and commitment after being hurt by an opponent will not have gone unnoticed by Wilder or his staff.

Given McCarthy’s apparent indifference towards the competition, it also went some way towards explaining why United reached the next stage and Ipswich, despite making a bright enough start, fell at the first hurdle for the ninth time in 11 seasons.

Apathy is contagious. Wilder had warned his team that his decision to ring the changes would not excuse a below-par display and the manager’s words clearly resonated in the away dressing room.

The meaning of the cup

“The FA Cup means a lot,” Slater continued.

“Every single game is a big game for us because you are pulling on that badge, wearing that shirt.”

United actually began the contest on the back foot before Thomas wrestled back control.

Ipswich’s Bersant Celina, who, like David McGoldrick, briefly threatened before disappearing, saw a shot deflected wide .

Daniel Lafferty, another of those later cited by Wilder, survived a handball appeal inside the penalty box.

But after Thomas pounced, United grew in stature, with Caolan Lavery, Carruthers and later Slater going close.

“We gave it everything,” Slater said. “Just like we always do.”

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