Taking a break from League One matters under the leadership of Nigel Clough the Blades have marched themselves into the fourth round of the FA Cup after winning their three previous outings away from home and neither requiring a replay. They beat Colchester United (3-2) and Cambridge United (2-0) before being handed a plum tie at top flight Aston Villa in round 3.
United made national headlines whilst Villa boss Paul Lambert was made to look the joker following his comments the day prior to the game - suggesting that the cup played second fiddle to that of the Premier League. The 6,000 travelling Blades didn't see it that way and with 20 minutes of play played out they had taken the lead when Jamie Murphy cut in from the left hand side and ghosted past Matt Lowton before his goal ward shot cannoned off the leg of Ashley Westwood and bounced over the stretching Jed Steer to score in front of the Holte End.
Belgian striker Christian Benteke saw two headers drift wide as the first half drew to a close as the hosts put up a poor performance, this largely due to United's no nonsense approach and despite having far less of the possession defended like Trojans. Lambert introduced Nicklas Helanius (for Aleksander Tonev) and with 15 minutes remaining a cross into the box fell kindly to the Danish striker who's first time shot fired past George Long; 1-1. A draw would have been injustice on United's part who had commanded the game from the off but there was to be a final twist in the tale when Ryan Flynn picked up the ball on the left and after almost being tackled got the batter of a Villa challenge before smashing past Steer to win the game and set up a home tie with either Fulham or Norwich City in Round 4.
In the league the Blades remain towards the relegation zone following a 2-2 draw at home to Bradford City last Saturday. United's league form has seen them take the lead in the last three outings (away games at Walsall and Nott's County) only to come away with just one point to show for it.
A dramatic comeback secured Bradford a share of the spoils during an enthralling 2-2 Yorkshire derby draw at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United appeared destined to secure all three points when first-half goals from Jamie Murphy and Harry Maguire put Nigel Clough's side in the driving seat. But the visitors ensured it finished honours-even when Gary Jones and James Hanson pounced after the interval. The Blades landed the first blow of a pulsating first-half when Murphy claimed his fourth of the season in the eighth minute. Tony McMahan, finding himself in time and space on the right flank, drove an angled centre across the visitors' penalty box for the former Motherwell winger, ghosting beyond Stephen Darby, to prod home from close range.
Billy Paynter, making his full Blades debut after joining on loan from Doncaster earlier this month, saw another attempt blocked as the home side pressed forward, but not before they had survived a huge scare at the other end. City's set-piece delivery caused United problems all afternoon and when Hanson saw a powerful header cannon back off the crossbar, only Jose Baxter's superb clearance prevented Carl McHugh from volleying home an equaliser. As both teams continued to trade chances, Maguire was forced to dart across the pitch when Aaron McLean, City's new signing, threatened to launch a counter-attack before doubling United's lead just before half-time.
Baxter, who later flashed wide from long distance, whipped a corner towards the far post and the centre-half claimed his sixth of the campaign after beating Jones and Jon McLaughlin to head home. City dusted themselves down and should have reduced the deficit soon after the re-start, but Hanson and McLean both failed to make the most of a cross from Mark Yeates, who had earlier replaced the injured Kyel Reid. A huge slice of luck enabled Jones to do exactly that when his deflected shot completely wrong-footed Long before the United goalkeeper diverted the City captain's free-kick into Hanson's path as City restored parity.
Stephen McGinn drew a fine reaction save from McLaughlin after being released by Tony McMahon, Maguire glanced wide and Murphy went close as United pressed before Shaun Miller curled just over the crossbar after tempting McLaughlin off his goal-line.
Sheffield United will be without on loan Doncaster Rovers striker Billy Paynter who is cup-tied having previously featured in Rovers 3rd round defeat at home to Stevenage. However there is positive news concerning forward Jose Baxter who hobbled off in that 2-2 draw with Bradford, who despite leaving the field injured is expected to start against Fulham.
Nigel Clough has completed the signings of defender John Brayford on loan from Cardiff City yesterday as well as Livingston forward Stefan Scougall - both could be included in the side to face Fulham on Sunday.
He also made further signings yesterday with the months loan of Blackpool full-back Bob Harris and allowing Tony McMahon to go the other way. Meanwhile Blades Academy starlets Elliott Whitehouse and Callum McFadzean are cup-tied after featuring in earlier rounds for York City and Chesterfield respectivly whilst out on loan.
Blades Possible Line-Up (4-4-1-1:
Brayford - Maguire - Collins - Harris
Flynn - Collins (c) - Scougall - Murphy
Fulham had to go through a marathon 180 minutes of football with Premier League rivals Norwich City until a winner for this tie was officially found. The two sides had drawn a goal apiece at Carrow Road in its initial tie with goals from Darren Bent for Fulham and a late leveller from Canaries Robert Snodgrass. A replay returned to Craven Cottage was required where Darren Bent masterminded Fulham's 3-0 FA Cup third-round replay victory over Norwich at Craven Cottage as the Canaries' winless run reached eight matches. The 29-year-old former England striker fired home Fulham's first goal to cap an impressive build-up sequence, before setting in motion the move that brought the decisive second from Ashkan Dejagah for Rene Meulensteen's side. Steve Sidwell added a third goal just past the hour, his sixth of the season, as Fulham tied up a fourth-round trip to Sheffield United.
Norwich's second slump of the season shows no signs of abating, this latest loss sure to increase the pressure on manager Chris Hughton. On loan from Aston Villa for the season, Bent's fitness, sharpness and form have all been castigated during his Craven Cottage stint. But on Tuesday night he claimed his fifth goal of the season, and his second against Norwich this term after striking in the 1-1 draw at Carrow Road on January 4 that set up this replay.
Bent has had to play second fiddle to Dimitar Berbatov so far under new Fulham boss Meulensteen. The 13-cap England striker showed signs of a recovery of form here though, suggesting he is ready to shrug off the seeming lack of focus that blighted his start to life at Fulham under former boss Martin Jol.
The Whites remain just one point ahead of the bottom three relegation spots currently held by West Ham United, Sunderland and Cardiff City following a London Derby defeat at table toppers Arsenal. Spain midfielder Santi Cazorla struck twice in the second half as Arsenal beat Fulham 2-0 to stay ahead of Manchester City at the top of the Barclays Premier League. With free-scoring City romping to another big home win as Cardiff were the latest side put to the sword at the Etihad Stadium, there was little margin for error from Arsene Wenger's men, who hold a slender one-point lead. After a slow first half, the Gunners finally sparked into life as two quick goals from Cazorla gave them what was in the end a comfortable victory.
Fulham - who made the expected sweeping changes from their midweek FA Cup third-round replay win over Norwich - had never won in any competition at Arsenal, losing 22 of their trips so far to north London. The visitors were almost behind on five minutes when Jack Wilshere played Mesut Ozil into the right side of the penalty area, and his scuffed shot rolled past fit-again goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but was hacked clear by captain Brede Hangeland, making his first league start since October after back surgery. Arsenal continued to attack, but were met with a determined wall of dark blue shirts at the edge of the Fulham penalty area.
Former Gunners trainee Steve Sidwell went in heavy on Wilshere to concede a free-kick in a central position some 25 yards out. Ozil, though, crashed his shot into the wall. German teenager Serge Gnabry, stepping into the side following Theo Walcott's season-ending knee injury, fed Olivier Giroud at the edge of the 18-yard box, but the France striker fired the ball high and wide. Fulham finally came to life on 20 minutes when the ball dropped to Sidwell at the edge of the Arsenal penalty area. The midfielder fired in a superb half-volley which Wojciech Szczesny beat away one-handed as it flew towards the top-right corner.
The Poland international then had to get his timing inch-perfect as he came out to save at the feet of Ashkan Dejagah as Fulham pressed again. Clever footwork from Cazorla after a quick free-kick saw the Spaniard brought down just outside the penalty arc. Ozil stood over the ball, but left it for Cazorla, whose low strike came off the bottom of the wall, rebounding to Bacary Sagna. His shot was saved as was Giroud's follow-up, but the offside flag had been raised. There was a scare for Arsenal at the start of the second half as Fulham defender Dan Burn, making his Premier League debut, sent a header goal wards from a corner, but Per Mertesacker was well placed to clear.
Slowly Arsenal regained their dominance, but continued to be frustrated by a lack of a decisive pass to open up the stubborn visitors. Gnabry continued to look lively and made space for a shot at the edge of the Fulham box which Stekelenburg pushed wide. The Cottagers goal continued to lead a charmed life as both Cazorla and Gnabry saw close-range efforts blocked before Laurent Koscielny hit the post. Arsenal finally had the breakthrough in the 57th minute when the ball was worked by Giroud to Wilshere in the left side of the crowded penalty area and he cut it back to Cazorla, who drilled his shot into the bottom right corner.
Before Fulham could regroup, they were 2-0 down. Nacho Monreal's cross from the left was headed out by Burn, and the ball dropped to Cazorla. The Spaniard needed little invitation to set himself before clipping a lovely drive low past Stekelenburg after 62 minutes. There was some concern when Giroud went down clutching his ankle following a sliding challenge from Sidwell, but the Frenchman was able to continue after treatment. With 20 minutes left, Gnabry was given a break as fellow German Lukas Podolski came on.
The substitute almost had an instant impact as his angled shot was blocked by Sascha Riether and then saw a rasping 20-yard drive touched on to the post by Stekelenburg. Fulham forward Darren Bent, on for Dejagah, almost continued his good form against Arsenal when clear through after the ball bounced off Szczesny, but could not cut his shot back into the empty net as Koscielny slid in.
Fulham are strengthened by the returns of keeper Maarten Stekelenburg (ankle) and defender Brede Hangeland (back) but are expected to be without defender Matthew Briggs (hernia) for their visit to Bramall Lane tomorrow. The Cottages have no currant squad members who once played for the Blades, however Norwegian defender Brede Hangeland was once linked with Sheffield United in January 2006 under former boss Neil Warnock.
The Whites may make changes to their side, taking to account a fixture against fellow relegation contenders Swansea City on Tuesday. Elsad Zverotic, Lasse Vigen Christensen and Aaron Hughes could all be given a run out whilst defender Fernando Amorebieta (knee) remains there only casualty.
Possible Cottages Line-Up (4-2-3-1):
Reither - Burn - Hangeland - Richardson
Sidwell - Kacaniklic
Dejagah - Parker - Dempsey
Blades-Mad Prediction: Sheffield United 2 Fulham 0