Blackburn Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
(after extra time; score at 90 min 1-1;
Sheffield Utd win 5-3 on penalties)
THE steel city may yet have its dream time, Dave Bassett's cut-price assortment from the Premier League's relegation zone raising their game to remove the millionaires of Blackburn from the FA Cup in a sixth-round replay which needed penalties to separate two desperately tired teams last night.
The prospect of United playing Wednesday for a place at Wembley has fired the imagination of the Sheffield public, and they may well have their big day.
For it to happen, Wednesday need to beat Derby County in their replay at Hillsborough tonight.
For a long time Blackburn threatened to poop the party. The team on whom Jack Walker has lavished some pounds 12m of his personal fortune were much the more accomplished side, and had only themselves to blame for their profligacy in spurning innumerable clear cut chances.
To their credit, United simply refused to be beaten, the unquenchable spirit we have come to expect from Bassett's teams enabling them to equalise twice before emerging victorious from the tie-breaker.
United had previously had only one penalty in two years, and Bassett said beforehand that they would have 'no bleedin' chance' if it came to a shoot-out.
It was the only thing he got wrong all night. Razor sharp, the Blades tucked away each of their five kicks, leaving Alan Kelly's save from Jason Wilcox decisive.
Heroic stuff. The less gifted team prevailed against the odds, which were stacked high against them when they deprived of Brian Deane and Franz Carr, their most penetrative attackers, by suspension and injury.
To lose a tie of such importance on penalties is never satisfactory, and it was particularly hard on Blackburn, who came to the replay with batteries drained by Sunday's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final against United's more celebrated neighbours.
They lost that one too, of course, and will end a season of solid progress empty-handed.
Both teams owed their audience a considerable debt after boring us rigid with the most sterile of draws at Ewood Park, and they atoned in full measure.
It took Blackburn 86 minutes to test Kelly at home, but just three had elapsed this time when Mike Newell's smart turn and shot had the United goalkeeper plunging low to make a good save.
For United, Adrian Littlejohn volleyed over from six yards and Ian Bryson miskicked with the goal at his mercy.
Sights set, both sides found more accuracy just before half-time, when Littlejohn had Bobby Mimms at full stretch and Wilcox demanded a spectacular parry.
The goal the tie promised arrived after 47 minutes when a corner from the right, taken by Wilcox, was headed home by Steve Livingstone, from beyond the far post.
The score served to banish Blackburn's apprehensions, and Wilcox and Livingstone both threatened further damage before Tim Sherwood shivered the crossbar from nearly 30 yards.
United had the look of losers, but would not accept their fate and their courage had its reward eight minutes from the end of normal time when Mitch Ward stabbed in a scruffy equaliser after Alan Cork had knocked down Glyn Hodges' cross from the left.
Extra time it was. Midway through it, Blackburn were back in front when Mike Newell turned in Sherwood's cutback from the right.
Again United seemed to be on their way out, again they came driving back for Ward to equalise again, this time from Cork's short cross from the left.
Blackburn could scarcely believe it, and the force was clearly with United as the players gathered in the centre circle for the dramatic denouement. Ward - who else? - safely dispatched United's first penalty, Kelly saved Rover's opening attempt and that was that.
Sheffield United: Kelly; Gage (Ward, 65), Whitehouse, Hoyland, Gayle, Pemberton, Littlejohn, Hartfield, Bryson (Beesley, h/t), Cork, Hodges.
Blackburn Rovers: Mimms; May, Dobson, Sherwood, Hendry, Moran, Ripley, Marker, Livingstone (Wegerle, 112), Newell, Wilcox. Substitute not used: Atkins.
Referee: P Durkin (Portland, Dorset).
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