The FA Cup adventure goes on for Sheffield United of League One, after Nottingham Forest were overcome by a second-half fightback of no little character to go the way of Aston Villa and Fulham as Nigel Clough’s team advanced to the last eight, with the possibility of an all-Sheffield quarter-final.
The Blades will take on Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton at Bramall Lane once their meeting, postponed on Saturday, is settled. The draw was made 30 minutes into the match, perfect timing for Clough, who decided to impart the news to his players during the half-time break and admitted that the incentive of a Steel City derby helped drive them on.
“We ummed and ahhed for a few seconds after we had heard the draw but then thought, ‘what the hell, let’s tell ‘em,” Clough said afterwards. “A few of them thought we were joking. But when they knew it was a true it was a little incentive for the, that’s for sure.”
Armed with that knowledge, the Sheffield side overcame the 28th-minute header by Jamie Paterson that had seemed to put Forest in control, equalising through Conor Coady on 66 minutes following a mistake by goalkeeper Dorus de Vries and going ahead through substitute Chris Porter in the 90th minute, from the penalty spot, after Greg Halford, a former United player, had stopped a Jamie Murphy cross with his hand.
Porter touched in a third for the home side in stoppage time to spark pandemonium among the majority in a 25,000 crowd and confirm a sweet victory for Clough against the club where he made his name as a player, and over an opposition manager with whom he has enjoyed a less than cordial relationship in recent years.
It was Forest manager Billy Davies who accused Clough of kneeing him in the back during a pitchside melee at Pride Park in 2010, when Clough was in charge at Derby. This time Davies accused his own players of “self-destructing” as their 16-match unbeaten run ended.
“For the first 45 minutes it was total domination, I could not see them scoring,” Davies said. “But in the second half it was complete and utter self-destruct. If you look at all their goals, without naming names, it was individual errors.”
United, still in the bottom four in League One and with a daunting schedule of nine matches in the next month after suffering two postponements during the recent adverse weather, are the lowest-ranked side to survive this long in the FA Cup since 1990.
Yet it had seemed they would be free to concentrate on their relegation battle as Forest, chasing promotion in the Championship, and with the vastly experienced Andy Reid quickly taking charge in midfield, appeared to have their measure comfortably.
Paterson, who hit a hat-trick as Forest knocked out West Ham in the third round, put them ahead with a neat angled header from Reid’s cross and although the lively Stefan Scougall drew one fine save from De Vries it was difficult to see Forest allowing their control to be loosened.
In the second half, though, there was noticeably more desire and belief in the way the home side attacked and there were signs of what was to come when Harry Maguire’s effort was kept out only by Gonzalo Jara’s brave block and then Scougall’s volley was saved.
At the other end, Mark Howard pulled off saves from Paterson and then Simon Cox as Forest responded, but then came the mistake by De Vries, fumbling a low cross from John Brayford, that allowed Conor Coady to turn the ball in from close range and raise Clough’s hopes.
Reid had a free kick tipped over the bar by Howard and as the clock ticked down a replay that neither side would have welcomed seemed the likeliest outcome. But United found the energy to pursue something better and earned it in the dying moments.
Porter had been on the field barely three minutes, not time enough to settle, but held his nerve admirably, firing his penalty confidently past De Vries. There were six minutes of stoppage time to follow but instead of pulling back to defend the home side pushed on again, Murphy stretching to win a ball that De Vries should have claimed and steering it across the six-yard box for Porter to tap in his second. There was a pitch invasion at the close, which happily did not turn ugly. Forest said they will be making no complaint.