Nigel Clough insisted Sheffield United’s trip to Wembley next month would be more than a day out to reward his players for their giantkilling FA Cup run.
United became the first third-tier side to reach the semi-finals of the Cup since Wycombe Wanderers were beaten by Liverpool at Villa Park in 2001. Clough’s team have knocked out Premier League sides Aston Villa and Fulham as well as Nottingham Forest and now Charlton from the Championship.
Now another top-flight side, Hull City, stand between them and the final itself. Two goals in as many second-half minutes ended Charlton’s dreams in front of a crowd of 30,000 inside a raucously atmospheric Bramall Lane.
“You go to the seaside for a day out, not to Wembley,” Clough said. “If you look at the teams left, it is a little bit scary. It is about the financial boost for the club and everybody enjoying Wembley. But we will be giving it a go and trying to get to the final.
“To get to this stage as a League One side is an incredible achievement and we have not had easy draws along the way.”
Clough’s in-form team, who have also won six consecutive league matches to climb away from the League One relegation battle, struggled at first to make any impact against Chris Powell’s side, who beat Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round to scupper plans for a Steel City Cup derby.
Charlton organised themselves defensively to play a containing game and the home side were limited to a few half-chances in the opening 45 minutes. Diego Poyet, the 18-year-old midfielder whose father is Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, played with impressive maturity in a holding midfield role.
Clough blamed nerves for the slow start. “A lot of these lads have not experienced the kind of atmosphere they had today and it takes your breath away sometimes when you are not used to it,” he said.
But when Charlton began to push higher up in the second half, the Blades were able to counter-attack effectively and winger Ryan Flynn gave them the lead after 65 minutes, getting in behind Charlton’s defence to convert an inswinging cross by Jose Baxter.
Less than two minutes later Jamie Murphy stormed through on the left and pulled the ball back to find full-back John Brayford on the edge of the penalty area. His shot would have tested Charlton goalkeeper Ben Hamer but in the event took a deflection, wrong-footing him totally.
Clough, who played on the losing side in the 1991 Cup final for Forest, said the personal satisfaction he draws from this win is small next to that of the players, and pales in comparison with what it means to the club, who will bank around £2million by reaching the last four.
But, having been surprisingly sacked by Derby County in September, the way he has revived the fortunes of a side who were facing a prospective relegation battle when he succeeded David Weir a month later has been enormously impressive.
Charlton could have gone in front shortly before United scored when Marcus Tudgay’s pull-back found Callum Harriott unmarked, only for the Charlton forward to drag the ball wide of an open goal.
“We had the chance to break the deadlock and did not take it and that was the game changer,” a disappointed Powell said. “Whether it was the enormity of the occasion or not, I don’t know, but we could not give our fans what they wanted and that’s tough to take. We didn’t play as well as we can.”