Sheffield United: The dream becomes reality for Davies

Ben Davies celebrates his goal against Peterborough � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Ben Davies celebrates his goal against Peterborough � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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Ben Davies has played these glamorous FA Cup encounters many times before, writes James Shield.

Not, admittedly, for real. But, as a football mad youngster, in his back garden at home.

“My brother and I used to do our own draw and then go outside and try and replicate that,” Davies admitted last night. “It’s a magical competition and, at this stage, they are all absolutely massive games.

“We didn’t have a particular team when we were playing those matches. But I always wanted to be the underdog and, from what I can remember, it was always the underdog that went through.

“Hopefully that’s a good omen.”

On Sunday, when Charlton Athletic of the Championship visit League One’s Sheffield United, Davies will enjoy an opportunity to make his boyhood dreams come true. Around 30,000 supporters are expected to descend upon Bramall Lane as the competition’s two lowest ranked clubs do battle for a place in the semi-finals at Wembley next month.

Davies, on loan from Derby County, arrived in South Yorkshire less than three weeks ago but has tracked United’s progress ever since they overcame Aston Villa at the third round stage.

“I grew-up following Villa and my family still only live about 10 minutes from the ground,” he continued. “My brother and my dad are huge fans and I’m sure they’ll have been at that game.

“Those are the type of results which make people sit up and take notice. And they are also what make this, in my opinion at least, the best cup there is in the world.

“So, to have the chance to play in it at the best stadium in the world, well, that’s what you aspire to do when you’re growing-up.

“But we can’t think about that at the moment. We’ve got to put all of that to one side because, when you start looking at the next step, that’s when you’re more likely to get tripped up.

“Charlton are a division above us and so we know, make no mistake about it, that this is going to be a really tough game.”

Those words will be music to Nigel Clough’s ears after the United manager used his pre-match media briefing to rubbish the notion that United, having also beaten the likes of Fulham and Nottingham Forest en route to this weekend’s contest, should be regarded as favourites to go through.

Charlton, who dispatched Sheffield Wednesday in the previous round, made no secret of the fact that talk of a potential Steel City derby had inspired their dogged performance at Hillsborough with Chris Powell, Clough’s managerial counterpart, later claiming his players had been allowed to go “under the radar.”

There is, Clough insisted yesterday, absolutely no danger of that happening again.

What neither United or Charlton can escape, though, is the magnitude of the prize at stake.

“I know the cup has had a bit of stick in recent years,” Davies said. “ But once you get through to this stage, everything really hots-up.

“These are some of the biggest games you are ever going to be involved in. But, to be honest, I think you should embrace everything that comes with it.

“This is what you work hard for. I might be wrong but I don’t think any of the lads have been further than the fifth round.

“This is why you put in so much effort during the week and the match itself is always the most enjoyable part.”

Davies, aged 32, scored his first goal for United during Tuesday evening’s 2-0 victory over Peterborough with a trademark set-piece.

That result, their eighth straight win in all competitions and fifth consecutive clean sheet, means Clough’s charges can, irrespective of Charlton’s second-tier status, approach their latest challenge in a positive frame of mind.

Davies, whose contract at the iPro Stadium expires later this year, said: “I do a lot of work on my free-kicks so it was nice to see that go in. It’s a good weapon to have, especially if games are tight and when you’ve got people like Harry (Maguire) and Collo (Neill Collins) attacking the ball.

“I’m under quite a lot of pressure to put it into the right areas because of that.”

Clough, who spent over three-and-a-half seasons at County before taking charge of United earlier this term, recounted after that fixture how he used to watch Davies “working with his own bag of balls, improving his set-piece technique” for “hours and hours” at their Moor Farm training complex.

“It’s not something that’s happened overnight,” he said. “Ben has worked hard on that over the years.

“What we like about Ben is that he’s someone you can rely on. You know what type of character he is and that he’s prepared to work hard for himself and the team.”

“I’m really enjoying it here,” Davies continued. “All of the lads have made me feel really welcome and that’s really helped me to settle in.

“Of course, it always helps when you are winning games and, fortunately, that’s what we’ve been doing. We’re not under any illusions about the task ahead but we also know that we can approach it in good form.

“It’s been frustrating for me at Derby this year because I wasn’t involved too much. I was picking up little niggling injuries and that was because I wasn’t getting regular games so it was great to come here.”

Davies, previously of Kidderminster Harriers and Notts County, was a member of the Shrewsbury Town team which lost the League Two play-off final to Gillingham five years ago.

“We beat them 7-0 earlier in the season and had a good squad, including people like Grant Holt,” Davies said. “Looking back, I think we might have taken them a bit lightly.”

He will not be making the same mistake again.