February 13th, 1999: Arsenal's FA Cup Cheat
Arsenal 2 - 1 Sheffield United
The Blades have got a remarkable record of making it to the later stages of the FA Cup in recent years, despite their lowly league position. Over the last decade they've made it there in 1992, 1998 and 2003. And they might have made it in 1999 if Arsenal had't cheated in the 5th round of the FA Cup.
No one gave Sheffield United a chance when the draw was made and they'd got an away fixture at Arsenal. The team were languishing in the middle reaches of Division 1 whilst their opponents were cruising along in the top echelons of the Premiership. Well the doubters were in for a surprise!
The game was particularly well fought by the Blades and was heading towards a 1-1 draw and replay back at Bramall Lane, when one of the oddest incidents in football history took place. Sheffield had kicked the ball out of play so that an injured Arsenal player could recieve some treatment. Now the convention is in these scenarios is that the throw in will go straight back to the opposing team's keeper. Unfortunately no one told Kanu about this.
He intercepted Ray Parlour's throw in, crossed the ball in front of the Sheffield penalty area, where it was picked up by Marc Overmars. He then turned, shot, ball in the back of the net. Arsenal two one up with 15 minutes to play.
This unsportsmanlike behaviour caused fury in the Sheffield ranks, and not a little embarrassment amongst the Arsenal players. The problem was that the goal was perfectly valid, the pass back to the keeper is merely a sporting convention that all players keep to. It isn't in the rules at all!
In the fall out from the incident, Arsenal agreed that the tie should be replayed. So 10 days later we all trooped back down to Highbury for another go. Sadly the wind had knocked out of Sheffield's sails by the first match, and they surrendered two one in a tame match to the Gunners.
We will never know what might have happened if Arsenal had been forced to come and play at fortress Bramall Lane.
March 16th, 2002: The Battle of Bramall Lane
Sheffield United 0 - 3 West Bromwich Albion
The so called 'Battle of Bramall Lane' happened during the course of a tough fought home match in the Nationwide 1st Division 2001/02 season against West Bromwich Albion. It became a match that went down in history as the first time a game at this level had been stopped because of lack of players.
The match started badly for United when after 8 minutes played their goalkeeper, Simon Tracey, was ajudged to have handled the ball marginally outside of the penalty area, thus denying WBA a clear scoring chance. This resulted in an instant red card for Tracey and he was dismissed from the field. The team was hastily restructured with the reserve keeper coming on as substitute for an outfield player, and United settled down to long defensive struggle.
The fireworks really began at the beginning of the second half after United made a double substitution and brought on strikers Georges Santos and Patrick Suffo. Within a few minutes Santos made a reckless challenge1 on West Bromwich's Andy Johnson for which he was given a red card. Though the video evidence does show that Santos made contact with the ball before making contact with Johnson's shins.
In the subsiquent melee over the dismissal of Santos, Patrick Suffo headbutted one of the West Bromwich players and was instantly dismissed himself. Hence United found themselves with only eight players on the pitch, the score two nil down and with 26 minutes still to play.
Despite battling as hard as they could, United could not avoid conceeding another goal. But more worrying for the team was the damage that being outnumbered was having on the players still playing. By the 82nd minute of the game United had to withdraw two more players due to injuries, leaving them with only 6 players on the field. It was at this point that the referee had to abandon the game as the rules of football state that there must be at least seven players for a game to continue.
In the recriminations that followed United were accused of cheating by West Bromwich to get the game abandoned. Also there were calls for all manner of punishments to be meated out against the club. In the subsiquent inquiry by the FA, they found no evidence of cheating but the club were fined £10,000 for the violent conduct of Santos and Suffo. The final result of 3-0 to West Brom was allowed to stay, and they went on to win promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season.
November 6th 2002: It's not a Worthless Cup you know
Sheffield United 2 - 1 Leeds
When the draw was made for the 3rd round of the Worthington Cup and the Blades came up with a home tie against the Premiership's Leeds United. Everyone thought, "Oh well that will be a nice pay day for Sheffield and then they go out of the competition2". Hmm... not so fast please, things didn't quite go according to the hymn sheet.
The evening kickoff brought a freezing cold night and nearly 27,000 fans (they were right about the nice pay day bit.) to Bramall Lane. Leeds had 10 full internationals in their side, whilst Sheffield were at that time meandering around the top half of the Division 1 table. It should have been game set and match.
Well it nearly was when Yates scored an own goal in a first half that was dominated by Leeds, to put the visitors one nil ahead. At half time Neil Warnock delivered one of his fabled rousing speeched to the players in the dressing room, and they came out for the second half looking like a totally different team. The team put Leeds under all sorts of pressure all the way through the second half, but just couldn't seem to make any of the attacks stick, so it looked like Leeds were going through after all.
And then came injury time...
The fourth official signalled that there were to be four minutes of added on time. And just as he'd done it, Harte failed to clear the ball from the Leeds' lines. Phil Jagielka pounced on the missed clearance, controlled the ball with his chest. brought it down and whacked a 30 yard volley straight into the Leeds net. Robinson, the Leeds keeper, didn't have time to move a muscle.
Then it got better. Everyone was still celebrating the Sheffield goal and was looking forward to replay at Elland Road, when Page stopped a goal bound shot from Bowyer. The rebound went to the Blades Zimbabwain midfielder Ndlovu who held the ball up as Peschisolido sprinted up field. Ndlovu passed to Pesc, who crossed it back to Ndlovu, neatly avoiding a couple of impending Leeds challenges. The ball was then passed into the Leeds penalty area where Allison controlled the ball until Ndlovu could come in and fire it home.
Almost immediately the referee blew for the end of the match and the Blades had beaten a supposedly better team, and a deadly local rivel. Cue wild celebrations and major pitch invasion by deliriously happy fans.
January 8th & 21st, 2003: In Your Liverpool Slums
Sheffield United 2 - 1 Liverpool
Liverpool 2 - 0 Sheffield United
Liverpool win 3 - 2 on aggregate and after extra time
This was the moment that we realised that we truly were a good team. We had beaten a listing Sunderland and a disinterested Leeds United on the way to the Worthington Cup Semi-Final, but now to face Liverpool was a whole new ball game.
Against the odds we beat them in a tight game at Bramall Lane, and on the away fixture we were only one nil down at the end of the regulation 90 minutes, hence forcing the game to extra time. It took Liverpool and their millions until over 100 minutes of play to make the decisive strike.
Yes, we are a good team after all
March 9th, 2003: There's Only One Team in Yorkshire (again)
Sheffield United 1 - 0 Leeds
Peter Ridsdale, Terry Venables, Lucas Radebe, Mark Viduka, Alan Smith, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter can you here us - your boys took one hell of a beating... again!
You would have thought that the 'mighty' Leeds United would have learned their lesson from earlier in the season, that you can't just roll up to Bramall Lane and expect to win purely on the strength of having a team stuffed full of expensive imports. But no, they played exactly the same sort of arrogant bully-boy game as they had played back in November. Fouls coming in left right and center as the team slowly lost control of their game.
The Blades on the other hand played a measured and controlled passing game, which always looked likely to come out on top in the end. It was only the fantastic efforts of Leeds' Paul Robinson in goal (really should be England's No.1 you know) that kept the score line blank for most of the match. That was until Steve Kabba finished off a frenzied attack that had featured blocked shots from Michaels Brown & Tonge.
All that was left was for Danny Mills to almost get sent off for second bookable offense, until he pointed out to the referee that he wasn't the bald headed useless ugly f*cker who had just committed a foul, that was another bald headed useless ugly f*cker in the Leeds team -- well there are so many to chose from, although no all of them are bald.
How we all laughed...
April 13th, 2003: One Nil to the Referee
Arsenal 1 - 0 Sheffield United
It's always sodding Arsenal... Every bloody time something goes wrong for the Blades in the FA Cup, it's always sodding Arsenal there causing the problems.
A bright sunny day in Manchester and Sheffield United are up against Arsenal in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup. This is the Arsenal who have been leading the Premiership for the whole season and seem destined (probably) to wrap it all up very soon3, built on a team costing some £82million in transfer fees. Now what does a team who cost one seventy-fifth of that amount have to do to beat them? Most folk would say pray....
The 'Game Plan' - break up the Gunners flow of play. Harry them, deny them space, always be in their face, go in hard, back out of nothing. That's the way to do it.
And do you know, it worked! For 34 minutes of the first half the Blades denied Arsenal any serious chances on goal. Stopped them playing the way that they normally play in the Premiership. And generally thoroughly pissed them off.
That was until they released their secret weapon. Step forward Mr. Graham Poll. The finest midfield player on the park for Arsenal, it's just a pity he was wearing the referee's jersey at the time.
His first contribution was to not award a free kick when Allison was pushed then kicked from behind by Sol Campbell. Even Sol stopped and looked a bit sheepish about what he had just done, until Mr. Poll waved play on.
The really significant thing he did was to get in the way of Michael Tonge as he was trying to block an Arsenal pass in midfield. When I say get in the way, he actually ran straight into the guy and nearly clattered poor old Tongey to the ground. Now had he been a real Arsenal player, as opposed to just helping them out, he would have recieved a yellow card for that collision. Suffice to say, with Tonge well and truly stopped, the Arsenal pass was completed, and that was the beginning of the move that lead to Arsenal's one and only (but decisive) goal.
A few comments on the rest of the match would be that David Seaman made a cracking save from a Peschisolido header. Dragging tha ball one handed whilst he was in the air and off balance from quite literally the edge of the goal line. Fair play to the fella, that was a top save from a 39 year old.
And finally, Arsenal fans can't sing to save their lives. All through the match the only songs that could be heard were coming from the Blades fans - and you can see a selection of them here.
As for the pay day, well after the first two round were played in front of one man and his dog against York City and Wycombe Wanderers. All the subsequent games were played at home in front of large crowds, and the estimation is that United made over a £1million profit from the cup run.3Well if they don't win it, they will be an easy second after ManU