Sheffield United v Southampton match report: McNulty delivers as Blades add Saints to the list of victims and progress into the semi-finals

Sheffield United 1 Southampton 0: Clough’s team claim another victim

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The Independent Football

Sheffield United’s appetite for Premier League scalps claimed another victim as Nigel Clough’s League One side knocked out Southampton to claim a place in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup.

Leading scorer Marc McNulty’s goal midway through the second half, after England goalkeeper Fraser Forster had spilled a free-kick, meant that Ronald Koeman’s team went the same way as West Ham, who were defeated by the Blades in a second-round penalty shoot-out at Upton Park.

Clough’s team also eliminated Premier League sides Fulham and Aston Villa to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup last season. The former Nottingham Forest player and Derby manager has an impressive record in cup matches in his 14 months as manager at Bramall Lane, losing only twice in 18 ties.

Southampton fans might have feared it would be a difficult evening given their team’s recent loss of momentum in the Premier League, in which they occupied second place when the quarter-final draw was made.

That was more than a month and a half ago, after a fourth-round win at Stoke that came during a run of 11 wins in 12 games for Koeman’s side in all competitions.

Lately, life has been less straightforward, their progress checked by four consecutive defeats – the first three against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United but the latest, more worryingly, at Burnley.

A top-four place remains possible, but Koeman must believe that winning a cup is the more realistic route to tangible success from his first season in charge and his line-up last night reflected a serious desire to make the semi-finals.

Steven Davis and Jake Hesketh were injured, Dusan Tadic was given the night off following a dip in form, Graziano Pelle was suspended and Toby Alderweireld relegated to the bench.

Marc McNulty bundles the ball into the net (Getty)

But otherwise it was a strong Southampton line-up, with the influential Morgan Schneiderlin recalled after missing the last three matches through injury.

United are fifth in League One, although their form has been patchy recently, with only one win in six, and Clough made three changes in addition to those dictated by ineligibility, which accounted for Paddy McCarthy and Chris O’Grady.

There was no settling easily into any kind of rhythm for Southampton, who enjoyed the greater share of first-half possession but were unable to create much with it in the way of clear chances, and as the home crowd warmed vocally to a series of counter-attacks the Premier League side began to look nervous.

Nathaniel Clyne was cautioned for chopping down Bob Harris somewhat impulsively and was joined almost immediately in the book by Sadio Mane, who brought down Jamie Murphy in almost the same position wide on the left.

Louis Reed fizzed a free- kick over the bar with Southampton needing to find some composure. Of the two teams they were the more relieved of a chance to regroup when half-time arrived.

Koeman attempted to regain some control of proceedings by taking off Matthew Targett, the 19-year-old left-back, and switching the far more experienced Ryan Bertrand to a more familiar role after starting him in an attacking position. Lloyd Isgrove, the 21-year-old Welsh midfielder, came on for his fifth senior appearance.

The most interesting change was made by Clough, who sent on Che Adams, an 18-year-old forward who was playing for Ilkeston in the Northern Premier League barely a month ago and for whom United reputedly paid a six-figure sum.

And it was the home side who began the second half with more snap, launching a spell of sustained threat that culminated in a goal after 62 minutes. Murphy blazed high and wide from a chance at the far post, then Forster saved from first Murphy and then Ryan Flynn, who was set up nicely by Adams.

With rain lashing down, Forster’s handling had looked uncertain and when Mane conceded a foul right on the edge of the box in a central position, Harris thundered in a low free-kick that spun from the England goalkeeper’s grasp and might have crossed the line anyway had McNulty not arrived to make sure.

Sheffield United players celebrate reaching the semis (Getty)

Southampton, though, were by no means ready to stand aside and allow Clough’s team to claim another Premier League scalp easily. James Ward-Prowse had gone close with a couple of long-range free-kicks before McNulty scored and it needed a good save from Mark Howard to deny Mane an equaliser.

Forster did well to deny United a second goal three minutes from time, saving from Murphy before Adams saw his follow-up blocked.

A bad night became worse for stuttering Southampton as a booking for Schneiderlin ruled him out of their next Premier League match at home to Everton on Saturday.

With six minutes left, Southampton’s 26-year-old Romanian centre-back Florin Gardos, was sent off for bringing down McNulty.

After the final whistle, with the pressure perhaps beginning to tell, Koeman refused to shake hands with Clough.

Man of match Murphy.

Match rating 8/10.