In the past twelve months Sheffield United (under the leadership of Nigel Clough) have given themselves a reputation as cup underdogs. Last season they beat top flight clubs Aston Villa and Fulham to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and gave Hull City quite a scare at Wembley too. The 2014/15 season has seen United march into the semi-finals of the League Cup also - the first time in 11 years. They will face Tottenham Hotspur over two legs at the end of this month. They achieved this after beating West Ham United (on penalties) and Southampton - so are no strangers to facing top flight opposition.
The league is a different story and they currently lay 6th in League One but haven't played since Boxing Day when they lost 2-1 at Port Vale due to the home clash with Scunthorpe being postponed following a heavy downfall of snow.
Dany N'Guessan made no mistake with a late penalty to secure Port Vale a 2-1 victory over 10-man Sheffield United who had skipper Chris Basham sent off just before half-time. The opening stages were hard-fought and even before Vale took the lead with the first chance of the game in the 16th minute. Mark Marshall's corner was played to the edge of the penalty area where N'Guessan drilled in a low shot, which was cleverly flicked into the net by Ben Williamson.
Williamson, in the centre of goal six yards out, used his right foot to neatly deflect the ball low inside Blades goalkeeper Mark Howard's left-hand post. The visitors almost levelled four minutes later when Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal pulled off a brilliant reaction save after Stefan Scougall's shot had taken a big deflection off Richard Duffy. United were really up against it a minute before the interval when Basham was shown a straight red card for a late and reckless challenge on Michael Brown.
But the visitors' 10 men drew level in the 54th minute when Jamie Murphy beat both Adam Yates and Frederic Veseli on the left and played a pass for Jamal Campbell-Ryce to place a right-footed shot inside Neal's post from 10 yards. It was nip and tuck after that until Bob Harris scythed down Marshall to concede a 79th-minute penalty, which N'Guessan blasted high inside Howard's right-hand post.
Blades boss Nigel Clough will be boosted by the return of midfielder James Wallace after recovering from a groin and hamstring injury. However he will be without defender Chris Basham who serves the first of a three match suspension following his red card at Vale Park. He will miss further games against Preston North End (h) and at MK Dons. United are also without Chris O'Grady and Paddy McCarthy, both have returned to their parent clubs Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace after being recalled from there loan spells.
1982 FA Cup runners-up Queens Park Rangers are likely to rest 'key' players ahead of there clash with the Blades at Loftus Road tomorrow. The Hoops site just above the relegation spot in the Premier League and with millions at stake it is likley that boss Harry Redknapp will be more keen to maintain a top flight position than progress in the cup.
Rob Green, Richard Dunne, Joey Barton and Clint Hill have all featured for Rangers over the Christmas period, they have played on 26th and 28th of December as well as a 1-1 draw to Swansea City on New Years Day. Alex McCarthy, Rio Ferdinand and former Blades midfielder Matt Phillips may take their places. Elsewhere Alejandro Faurlin and Sandro (both knee) have been ruled out by injuries, while Adel Taarabt is not fit enough to play and Yun Suk-Young (ankle) is also sidelined through injury.
Up for the Cup!
Four times FA Cup winners Sheffield United (1899, 1902, 1915 & 1925) have a good record against Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup. They have met only three times in two different seasons. In 1922/23 a Tommy Sampy goal was enough to ensure victory in the Fourth Round as United marched onto the semi-final before losing by a single goal to Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford, Manchester.
In recent years the Blades and the Hoops were drawn together in the Third Round during the 2009/10 campaign when both sides reigned in the Championship. A 1-1 draw was played out in the initial fixture at Bramall Lane but United made amends in the replay - taking a three goal lead before a late flurry from the hosts saw the S2 side win by three goals to two. Ironically the Blades would be elimiated in the following round by Bolton Wanderers.
3 January 2010 - Sheffield United 1 QPR 1
On-loan Stoke City striker Richard Cresswell struck in first-half stoppage time to keep Sheffield United's FA Cup hopes alive. Queens Park Rangers proved a tough nut to crack under new manager Paul Hart, while the home side dominated for long periods but couldn't find a way past Radek Cerny. United carved out an early opening after Derek Geary was fouled by Alejandro Faurlin, Jamie Ward's precise free-kick found centre-back Chris Morgan whose close-range header flashed wide of the left-hand upright.
The Sheffield side should have snatched the lead in the ninth minute, Henri Camara's quick feet deceiving the QPR defence as he passed unselfishly to Stephen Quinn, but from ten yards the little midfielder hammered his right-foot shot against the crossbar. Rangers found their way blocked by a resolute United defence, Jay Simpson trying with a long-range strike, saved at the foot of the far post by the diving Mark Bunn. Argentinian midfielder Faurlin went even closer with a fierce strike from 25 yards, Bunn was unable to hang on to the ball as it spun out of his hands and wide of the target.
Rangers' persistence paid off in the 39th minute with the United back four at fault , they failed to cut out Wayne Routledge's low cross from the right and Simpson added the finishing touch firmly sidefooting past Bunn from ten yards. United were back on level terms in first-half stoppage time, Quinn delivering the cross as Cresswell steered his header into top left-hand corner from close range. Camara almost added a second minutes after the re-start, drilling in a stinging right-foot shot which Cerny could only push away, before Ward saw his effort spin inches wide after neat work from Ched Evans.
Gary Borrowdale blocked Camara's shot on the turn and as United looked for a second goal, it almost came ten minutes from the end. Evans' spectacular free-kick from all of 35 yards crashing back off the bar with Cerny well beaten.
12 January 2010 - QPR 2 Sheffield United 3
Jamie Ward scored with his first touch as Sheffield United blew QPR away with two goals in two minutes to book an FA Cup fourth-round meeting with Bolton. A tight game was only separated by Lee Williamson's early effort before Ward came on with 22 minutes left and put the result beyond doubt by scoring within seconds and then, virtually from the kick-off, crossing for Richard Cresswell to make it three. Akos Buzsaky and Damion Stewart pulled two goals back but it was too much for many home fans, who left in their droves in front of watching owner Flavio Briatore.
Yet the hosts had started brightly as former Blade Mikele Leigertwood shot just wide after 90 seconds, before Alejandro Faurlin tested Mark Bunn with a low drive. QPR were well on top, yet as is the habit with sides low on confidence, they blew all that promise by conceding. There appeared little on when Nick Montgomery got the ball just outside the area, but the striker floated a perfect pass in to Williamson, who drove low into the far corner for his second goal for the club.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Rangers, although Buzsaky - the man at the centre of the controversy that saw former manager Jim Magilton leave the club last month - nearly levelled after a fine run past three players. But amazingly the visitors could have been two ahead after having a grand total of just two shots as Ched Evans was given the freedom of the QPR half to run on to James Harper's through-ball only to fluff his lines and strike the bar. And the home fans began to turn on their team as the second half continued, with the visitors regularly pinning them back in their own half.
Faurlin went close with a drive, yet QPR's midfield simply didn't have the guile to haul their team back into the contest. And their mood was hardly improved when the visitors scored two in two minutes to put the game out of sight and Ward was at the heart of it. The midfielder had been on the pitch a matter of seconds when Cresswell broke down the wing and crossed the ball directly into his path and Ward made no mistake, although Radek Cerny should perhaps have done better.
Yet there was nothing the keeper could do when Ward got free directly from the kick-off and returned the favour to Cresswell, leaving the home fans chanting 'you don't know what you're doing' at manager Paul Hart in what was just his fifth game in charge.
There was an instant response by the hosts as Buzsaky lashed home a penalty after a rather debatable handball was given against Derek Geary, before Stewart met the midfielder's free-kick to halve the deficit with just three minutes to go. But in truth it was a case of too little, too late for the hosts as Sheffield United go marching on.
Blades-Mad Prediction: QPR 1 Sheffield United 1 (Replay Required)