The visitors had looked in complete control in the first half with a much improved performance from a week ago. They scored a wonderful individual goal from Christian Eriksen and for the first time since playing a side at a level above, United did struggle to stay in the game. However, they kept plugging away and a dream scenario threatened to unfold as teenage substitute Che Adams scored a quick fire brace in the final quarter of an hour. From the point United looked like they might score the crucial third but with extra time looming another classy Eriksen goal put paid to the Blades chances.
With Bramall Lane packed to the rafters (save for a section cordoned off at police request) the weather added to the drama with blizzard, sleet, hail and icy conditions all occurring at different stages of the evening.
United made one change from a week ago with Jose Baxter coming in for Louis Reed. Spurs did not start goal scorer Andros Townsend having Eric Lamela in from the start and also dropped Emmanuel Adebayor to the bench with Moussa Dembele starting.
The atmosphere was electric as the game began but United’s fans were quietened due to the start Tottenham made. Seemingly playing at a much higher tempo as Pochettino had implored pre match; they pressed United and played higher up the pitch. Eriksen looked to get on the ball and fed Lamela who shot over. McEveley dallied and Kane was in but his shot was off target. United had been slow to get going but United had a golden chance to score soon after. Campbell Ryce as he had in the first leg left Davies for dead and his cross was spilled by keeper Vorm. Scougall touched on to Murphy and his shot was cleared off the goal line by former Blades hero Walker. It was a close call and United were unfortunate not to score.
After this let off Spurs came again and Kane showed his strong running twice to get down the inside channel but one effort was straight at Howard and another into the side netting. It was quick fire football from the Premier League side who were really making the Blades work and soon after Baxter lost the ball and they were away again but Kane was off target again.
Spurs were right at it but United were careless on the ball and Harris’ unnecessary quick free kick saw them break and Doyle brought down Stambouli. The free kick was 30 yards out and on the angle but it still seemed generous to just have two main men in the wall with a gap between them and an additional man Doyle seemingly so Howard could have side. It may not have mattered as a tremendous free kick from ERIKSEN arrowed and bent over the wall and went in off the far post giving the keeper no chance. It was a marvellous effort and little United could do although they would have been disappointed to have given away a cheap free kick when they had the ball.
United tried to get going and Murphy was brought down by Walker who was the first to go into the referee’s book. From a decent spell of play McNulty turned and fired wide before Spurs again showed their speed when they broke quickly again. This time Doyle tripped Mason giving Eriksen another chance but this time he hit the wall. The first half ended with United trying to stay in the game but they would have conceded they had been second best despite the early chance which may have changed things dramatically.
The snow continued to come as the second half started and Mason and Dembele were both booked for cynical trips. Scougall was looking lively and getting on the ball more and United were showing more hunger this half winning more of the loose balls.
Kane had an effort saved by Howard and then Flynn was booked for United stopping another breakaway and after this incident Dembele had to go off to be replaced by Paulinho with Reed replacing Doyle for the home side. After another chance for Kane was blocked, Townsend also came on for Lamela. United made their final moves with Higdon and Adams coming on for McNulty and Campbell Ryce.
United had shown a greater effort and kept the ball better this half but had not created any clear chances and it seemed the dream was dyeing but suddenly a burst from Flynn down the right saw a chance. The winger turned full back put over a delightful cross that just evaded Higdon who fell under a challenge but ADAMS controlled and sidefooted across the keeper Vorm. It was a remarkably cool and clinical finish and United were back in the game.
Only 2 minutes later it was incredibly level on aggregate and United ahead on the night. This time Murphy did the spade work as he ran down the right and jinked his way to the byline past Vertonghen before standing up a great cross that fell to ADAMS who showed great composure again before firing home with the aid of a deflection at the Kop end. The ground went ballistic and the comeback was well and truly on.
United kept surging forward sensing their best chance of winning it was now and another chance came after another Flynn run but Scougall’s shot lacked power. Adams then ran at Walker but fell as he tried to go past him. Then Flynn again found Reed and the youngster was in but his powerful shot went just over. This was the moment many felt could have won the tie and sent United back to Wembley. Spurs were on the back foot but had another flurry and Kane was blocked out again after more quick feet but then the striker found a lovely through ball which split centre backs and full back Flynn. ERIKSEN was in and calmly drilled the ball into the far corner giving Howard no chance. The goal came with less than three minutes to play and the celebrations from Spurs showed how relieved they were.
Still the Blades came again in four minutes of stoppage time. Basham’s control was too heavy on a Higdon through ball and it led to him catching Vorm. He had every right to go for it but was probably rightly booked although how Vertonghen escaped censure after putting his hand round Basham’s neck was odd despite the United’s man’s theatrical fall.
United forced a couple of late throws and one flick on just evaded Adams and then soon after referee Dean ended proceedings. It had been an almighty second half effort but United had come up just short in the end.
United – It was a gutsy effort. First half I felt we sat off and lost the battle in terms of effort/winning loose balls which was disappointing really. I felt we were second best and they looked much better. We did not help with some poor play and at times it was men against boys. I can cope with their movement and skill but they were better in all areas really. We gave the ball away a lot, sometimes under little pressure and they were right at it. We still had the best chance but Murphy’s effort was kicked off the line. This goes in then it is a different game. After this Spurs got control and Kane was causing all sorts of problems. The goal was brilliant and not a lot you can do. The wall maybe could have had more in it as some have said but not sure it would have mattered as it still would have beat the wall and gone in. After this we struggled and I could not see where we would score from.
I felt we were crying out for a presence up top and even though he is maligned Higdon would occupy the defenders. This is how it worked and it led to gaps for Scougall, Murphy, Flynn and of course Adams. Suddenly as we started to pen them back a bit in the blink of an eye we scored twice and you felt we could do it. They were rocking but I think United were right to keep going and leave gaps. They had worked the ball around so much first half, I am not sure we would have been able to maintain that burst and tempo at the end for a further 30 minutes and with pens now gone, that was our best chance by trying to get the third before the end. We had a few chances too and if we had scored then I don’t think they had time to come back. The late goal was a sucker punch but was well made and taken and at least both goals were good individual goals rather than the daft one we conceded a week ago.
United really gave it a good go. Yes we struggled for an hour but we kept in it. Of course the negative side is if we had kept it 0-0 first leg or started this game better but in the end to lose by the odd late goal shows how close we got. We really gave them a scare and the scenes and celebrations at the end proved how relieved and pleased they were to get through. United have made the fans really proud in the last 12 months or so in the cups. It is a shame the same set of players rarely does the same in the league whether it is pressure or how teams set up; it is still poor that we are messing around and not even certain we will even get in the top 6. Still putting the league aside for now I have to say how well they did last night. At times they did get outclassed but kept their shape and discipline and tried to keep going. They showed real heart to come back and the old stadium was rocking for a period. Of course we remain that side/club that is the nearly men but the games against Hull and last night; I cannot grumble. It far from the let down we have had in other play offs or cup semis (some of them) over the years.
We did give it a right good go and the club had a lot to be proud of. It would be great to have more days/nights like last night. They do not happen enough but when they do they are special times at the Lane.
The team still needs additions and a striker is key but if we can get in those playoffs (automatic gone for me now) then you never know. Maybe the way Clough sets us up in such games might help us and one day we will have to break that voodoo?
Saturday (if it goes ahead –games worryingly mounting up) will be tough as we play the top of the league but with 4 or 5 changes (expect Coutts and Brayford straight in) then hopefully tonight can act to kick them on again.
Spurs – They were a much different side, if not so much in personnel, but attitude and approach tonight. At times the movement and football was very good and United did well just to stay in the game. I felt they were able to shift the ball quicker and get it forward better. Kane played up top which caused problems with his hold up and running. Think he will be an England regular one day. He is a proper old fashioned centre forward but also has intelligence in his play to add to strength and finishing. Eriksen moved all over the field and Dembele won a lot of the loose stuff. We did not know who to mark as they all shifted around the front third at times making it hard for us to stay with them. They had 4 or 5 half to decent chances (although none as good as Murphy’s) but the goal they scored was a great individual effort from a player who when he is on can be one of best players in country for me. After this we huffed and puffed but they seemed in control and at half time you wondered how we would get back in.
Second half saw them penned back a bit and we won a few corners but with a two goal cushion and them looking dangerous when they broke (and at real speed at times) they must have felt comfortable. However, suddenly we got behind them, put in two good crosses and two goals went in. It shows for all the football and possession, the game is simple. They failed to stop crosses and did not mark. After this I felt they were really worried and seemed like they did not know whether to attack or defend. It would not have been a huge surprise to see them concede again and we looked the likely side to score again. They seemed to just want extra time but then they broke and scored another very good goal as we were committing men forward
Over the two legs on possession, chances and football of course they shaded it but we gave them a scare and at times we were right in the game. They have some very good players, Eriksen and Kane the two obvious ones but some very ordinary ones aswell (thought Walker was poor last night and Murphy caused him real problems). The keeper looked dodgy all night (rated him at Swansea too) and the lad Davies also was poor in both legs. I felt Dembele made a difference although the other lad Lamela was often not in the game and they paid stupid money for him. They will get to later stages of cups and also be around the top 4 or 5 for me but they need to add more quality and consistency to beat the top teams and I think if Chelsea play like they can, then they will win this particular competition.
Howard 7/10 – Made some quite standard saves but he still saved them and his handling was decent in awful conditions. Kane tested him two or three times. On the goals, he had no chance with either really. Maybe he could have had more in the wall but I doubt it would have mattered. He did seem to second guess where it was going but in the end if we had two keepers in, I doubt it would have mattered. The second it was right in the corner and he was left a bit exposed. His distribution was a mixed bag. Some way too long (one that went full length of pitch) and some barely got to half way but again hard to criticise when it was difficult under foot.
Flynn 7.5/10 – Played well again a right back. Attacking wise he was more an 8.5 but not quite as sound defensively and nearer to a 6 or 6.5. One or two dodgy moments and he got booked for a trip and also gave it away for a spell second half but overall stuck to his task and also got forward when he could. One or two great breaks which led to the chances for Scougall and Reed and then the goal for Adams. The cross for that was superb. However he switched of a little for the goal at the end but at that stage many were tired and he even seemed to be injured and may be a doubt at the weekend. Defensively he has showed a few moments where you can see he is not a natural full back and for all the praise for him there, him combined with Brayford was one of main threats last season. I expect him and JCR to alternate in that position depending on games/opponents and forms.
Harris 7/10 – I felt that he too had some sticky moments against tough opponents. He gave it away a few times (led to free kick for first goal) but equally put some good through balls down the flank and got forward when he could. Got better after the break in terms of ball retention and pressed better too.
Basham 7/10 – Another solid performance at centre back faced with pace, power and movement. Made some vital blocks and tackles and also reads the game well. A few times Kane got down the channel and got away from both him and McEveley but they tried to restrict chances best they could.
McEveley 7/10 – Started the game sloppily with a few cheap giveaways that nearly let Kane in but then got stronger and started to impose himself on the game more. He was able to win more of the ball and I felt second half it was much more of a contest than the first half. Still had a tendency to give away daft free kick though. I counted 4 or 5 he gave away in areas where it led to issues due to their skill in taking and their height advantage. Doyle was the same in this (see below). Still I hope him and Basham can stay together and maintain a partnership.
Doyle 6.5/10 – Thought he did a decent job albeit against some really good movement throughout the game. Tried to break up play whether it be tackles or fouls (sometimes he had to) and I felt he did ok but he did give away some silly free kicks too and we improved after he went off. His play with the ball was decent and he kept it simple but a few times he had a few wild passes/slices. Overall a steady performance but it was right he came off for Reed as we needed more energy and attacking options. Interesting the midfield that ended the game as it may be a sign of things to come. Be also a boig decision if they give him another year. Would have said no way a season or so ago but he has been steady. It’s sod law really. If they go up you need better players but if they don’t then maybe he is still ok or is he if we have not gone up?!
Scougall 7.5/10 – First half he was as guilty as any of being picked off and losing men, albeit against class opponents who were moving around all over the place and breaking at pace. He did not really see much of the ball and I felt we badly lost midfield (no disgrace). However second half he was much improved. He looked more like that player we saw last season as he broke at speed, commited men and looked a threat. It was the best he has played in spells all season and he showed more of the standards we would expect.
Baxter 7/10 – Game of two halves or an hour of average to poor then suddenly excellent. Odd game as at times he was so sloppy on the ball and gave it away way too cheap. First half he was a 5/10 and I would have taken him off. Off the pace and tossing away the ball with poor touches. He also never seemed to know who he was marking when he was doing the defensive stuff and was chief expert at marking space despite good movement. Still at times still showed glimpses of class and touch with good balls cross field. Then in an odd turnaround (although some said earlier in season – at Preston he did the same?) when Doyle went over, he came back and he played just in front of the back four and was a different player. He was winning tackles, getting stuck in and all over the place. Two block tackles in a row summed things up. I would not say he was a revelation in this unfamiliar position but it maybe something we can look at, certainly at League One level.
Murphy 8.5/10 – Thought he started a bit timidly as he had been at White Hart Lane against the speedy Walker but gradually worked out there was nothing to be scared about. Second half he gave Walker and Davies (when he swapped flanks) a torrid time. He beat men for pace, trickery and put some great crosses in. He was a real threat and they struggled to cope with him. As the pundits said in Sky along with Eriksen (and Kane) was the outstanding player in the field. He was the one United player whose touch and dribbling was excellent all night and looked like he could easily cope with playing at a higher level. If he toughens up a bit and can add more goals then he sadly will end up playing at a better level I fear; especially if we do not go up.
Campbell Ryce 6.5/10 – He was maybe our main threat for the opening of the game as tow or three times he got at Davies and stood up some decent crosses or forced territory but then he had a spell where he was slow to react to the ball. I felt second half he was less of a threat and despite swapping wings it was not a major surprise when he went off and allowed Murphy to move about more.
McNulty 6/10 – Tough night for him. He kept plugging away but first half we had little of the ball. When it came up to him, it was often in the air or hit at a height that made it hard to control or he was simply chasing defenders or closing down. A few times he held it up and had one decent shot but even when he did have it, his touch was not always great as many others were guilty of surrendering possession first half as Spurs pressed higher up. I wanted Higdon alongside him and was a little surprised he went off for him but it shows what I know as it worked allowing Murphy and Adams to feed off Higdon and created space rather than crowding things. Still feel we need at least one quality striker to play with him or to spearhead attack. O’Grady seemed to be that man but not sure he will come now he has returned to form at Brighton.
Reed – Made a difference in that he made some good runs and tried to get on the ball. His touch and passing was mixed but clearly the lad is a proper footballer with a big future. Think Clough is handling him right with him playing some and then resting him for some. The chance he had could have gone in. It took a slight bobble but he will have been disappointed not to have made keeper work and he had more time to go in a bit further I felt. Still he is a player that will be central to our play for the next few seasons (or until we sell him!).
Higdon – He actually made a difference as he came on, put himself about, won a few headers and drew attention. On the goal he was able to take Walker out giving space for Adams and then the same on the second drawing defenders. I felt his nuisance factor along with the few headers and knocks on ensured he was a difference maker.
Adams – If I gave ratings for subs (not sure why I don’t but hard to rate in comparison to players who play 60-90 mins) he would be probably a 9 for his contribution to the game in that short spell alone! What an impact he had. In the games he has played so far I have to say he has been ok rather than spectacular keeping things nice and simple and not really offering too much as an attacking threat but then tonight he showed us something else. One superb finish where he got in a really good position and then another patient finish as he took his time (may have gone in other corner without deflection). Still not sure if he is a winger, forward or what but he showed some pace tonight too and clearly there is some potential there. Still think he is more one for next season and beyond but as an impact sub like tonight then could be important. Seemed oddly calm about everything happening around him when he scored two in quick fire succession as the rest of the stadium had to pinch themselves!
Clough 8/10 – Again he set us up not to get beaten which was right. I think everyone knew we had to keep it tight for the first part of the game and then have a go. Maybe we were a little too defensive and we were not ready for them to attack like they did early on but we still had that great chance. The free kick knocked the stuffing out of us and for the first time we seemed out of our depth versus a Premier League side. Still we kept our shape and did not fold. Everyone knew if we got one goal then who knows and so it proved. Major credit for playing Baxter and Scougall and trying to be attacking in his formation and then also big kudos for making three subs that all had a big impact when he did it. Putting Baxter back and Reed as an attacking midfielder and of course Adams on the left with Murphy switching helped change the game. Clough definitely can get teams organised and to a shape. We can be hard to beat despite some stupid individual errors, poor marking at set plays and constantly giving away free kicks this particular season. It is the other way where we need to improve. Getting Brayford and Coutts in will help but we need at least 2 more for me before Monday to have a proper go. I just hope we will not be out of cup next week and have lost to Swindon as if that is the case then we are really struggling to salvage anything from the season other than cup memories again. This Saturday is much more important than Preston/Man Utd.
Officials – Mike Dean. Do you know what; do not all throw things at me but I thought he had an excellent game. He booked people in the right times, he let things flow when he could, he did not particularly favour the home side and in tough conditions let stuff go when he could. He could have booked Vertonghen for his reaction at the end but then after booking Doyle could have sent him off for another foul when they got a free kick towards the end. Normally he likes to be the star of the show but tonight I putting past games aside he was very good and made sure the teams decided the tie not the officials. Sure some will disagree and found it odd he was booed off as I cannot recall many decisions he got wrong all night.
Crowd – Great to see the Lane full although still annoying that Sheffield council/police still see it that we have to close the front rows of the upper tier and then a bit to the John Street side and then a big chunk in the corner. Other sides higher up have a row of stewards but we have a huge drop and not even any way they can be that physically close to rival fans and we have seats empty. Someone at the club does need to be asking questions as otherwise as some have said why have we built that stand? Maybe it is to do with segregation after the game but even if they gave those extra seats to Spurs or an away side at least they are filled and it is more revenue.
Anyway it was a good atmosphere. United fans had a quiet spell in the first half after the initial noise and build up and Spurs fans were very good and loud. However as they led and were in control you expected that. It was a little flat at times and you just wanted something to happen to give the crowd something to shout about and get behind them a bit more. A bad refereeing decision or a scramble but it was subdued for a while. Still United were able to get back in the game and the noise levels then went up. When the second went it, the noise was deafening and everyone sensed what might happen. If the third had gone in (Reed) the roof may have lifted off. Even after they scored the late goal, reminiscent of Hull at Wembley, many of the ground stood and applauded the side and cries of ‘We love United we do!’ echoed around the blizzard like sky. Many stayed at the end to salute the side which they appreciated and the players seemed gutted but knew they had done what they could and the crowd reciprocated. Nice to see Walker give a good clap to the home fans too. Great to see the Lane full (nearly!) and bouncing. Atmosphere was a bit tasty and getting in/out of the ground with the queues and the stuff happening around the ground maybe some complain about but we would love more days like that. Not sure they could put up the barriers every week if we ended up getting back to the top flight. Did seem like they were pockets of trouble before the game down side streets and clearly some Spurs (and United fans) had been drinking all game. The police presence was very high and maybe this sometimes adds to the trouble. I walked down Bramall Lane through the Spurs fans and they were singing and getting excited but other than few skirmishes it just seemed like the usual build up for a big game.