If ever a club needed an injury-time winner, scored by a youngster whose grandparents were both FA Cup winners with Manchester City in 1969, it’s Sheffield United.
Not just because of the romance of a Wembley semi-final and not just to continue the momentum they hope will take them back to the Premier League in May, but because of the mood and the bank balance.
These are difficult times at Bramall Lane. They may not go into administration, but financials are grim unless a takeover resolution can be reached, with Nigerian Dozy Mmobuosi waiting to complete the deal.
Tommy Doyle (left) celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Blackburn Rovers
Doyle sent his team to the semi-finals with a brilliant goal in the 91st minute of the game.
The midfielder found the high angle when the game seemed headed for extra time
Blades players celebrate with Doyle after he produced a magical moment in the cup tie
This has been a horrible season off the pitch. Paul Heckingbottom and his squad deserve immense credit for taking second place in the Championship and now in the final four for the FA Cup despite ongoing battles on the training ground and general uncertainty over money. They have been dangerously close to the administration on at least one occasion in recent months, but for one day they can forget.
Sheffield United (3-4-2-1): Foderingham 8; Ahmedhodzic 7, Egan 6.5, Robinson 6 (Sharp 70, 6.5); Baldock 7 (Bogle 88), Berge 7, Doyle 8.5, Lowe 7; McAtee 7 (Basham 90), Ndiaye 7; McBurnie 7.5
Unused Subs: Davies, Fleck, Norwood, Coulibaly, Arblaster, Jebbison
Manager: Paul Heckingbottom 7
Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): pears 6; Rankin-Costello 6 (Great Britain 80), Carter 6, Hyam 7, Pickering 7; Travis 7, Morton 7 (Dolan 90); Hedges 6.5 (Wharton 80), Szmodics 7.5 (Garrett 90), Brereton-Diaz 7; gallagher 6.5
Unused Subs: Kaminski, Edun, Phillips, Leonard
Manager: Jon Dahl Thomasson 5
Referee: Tim Robinson 5
That was possible thanks to Tommy Doyle, a young midfielder on loan from Manchester City. When the clock ticked past 90, he thought, why not? Twenty-five meters from the goal, a quick touch, and there he sails. It continues a wonderful family story in the competition, with grandpas Mike Doyle and Glyn Pardoe being part of that super team from town in the 1960s.
The goal corresponded to the tie. Out of breath from the first minute, and a winning team in the semifinals for the first time in a long time. Through the wringer, Heckingbottom and assistant Stuart McCall embraced as if they had won the whole thing full time. Jack Lester went dancing down the sideline. Bramall Lane remained as one, no one left. This is what adversity can do.
Blackburn Rovers, meanwhile, remain just one of six teams in the top four divisions yet to make it to the new Wembley. His last trip was in 1992 and Jon-Dahl Tomasson will wonder if going back to the back five when leading 2-1 in the last 10 minutes was the right thing to do. They will feel that this marker needs to be reversed.
Wes Foderingham thought he had completed the first of several good saves to hold this level when he deflected Sam Gallagher’s header over the crossbar. But, as Tyler Morton jogged to establish a Blackburn corner, someone whispered in Tim Robinson’s ear.
Gallagher’s header had struck Jack Robinson’s arm, off his side as he spun. He would have done well to have him anywhere else, but handball law sucks. Ben Brereton-Diaz firmly scored the penalty in the 21st minute and made a beeline for the home fans around a corner, egging them on as he went.
The involvement of VAR and delays creates a sense of frustration in whatever stadium it’s installed in, but this one is particularly hostile, so when United equalized seven minutes later, the home fans felt some justice in these quarter-finals. .
Max Lowe finished to hit a half-cleared corner, but his shot went wide, only for Gallagher to pull out a leg. Unbelievably, Blackburn’s No 9 deflected it into Aynsley Pears’ right corner. The Bramall Lane attendants roared with laughter as the own goal was replayed at half-time, while their jaws dropped when Jack Robinson, already holding a booking for the penalty, escaped further censure when he was penalized for launching late.
At this point referee Robinson, who made his Premier League debut at Wolves earlier this month, had lost control. Anthony Taylor, also the fourth official at Manchester City on Saturday, was on the touchline with an earache. The afternoon, and the intensity of it, seemed to pile up on Robinson.
Heckingbottom’s side were up, though Foderingham excellently parried Dominic Hyam’s header before a double save from Harry Pickering and then Gallagher. United were guilty of playing too much, the attackers wanting to beat too many men or attempt loose extra passes instead of shooting. Starting to find threatening space, James McAtee blew a big opportunity when he latched on to a loose rear pass from Lewis Travis.
And, on the hour, Rovers regained their lead with heavy pressing in midfield. Lowe sold Doyle short and the visitors came on, Gallagher taking possession and sneaking through Sammie Szmodics, who did what McAtee couldn’t do moments before. Szmodics used to impersonate Steven Gerrard in his back garden and the ending was reminiscent of the Liverpool legend.
George Baldock celebrates after the final whistle ended the entertaining game.
Betting, as soon as Heckingbottom pulled a defender back for a striker, Billy Sharp came on for Robinson, Rovers were hitting the post. Ryan Hedges drove inside and onto Foderingham’s near post, the effort twisting across the line without going over.
Tomasson went to five back to preserve the lead. United seemed lost. The thing about this though is that it never ends. Teams never cross a line against them. Lowe ran inside the box, taking aim at Oli McBurnie and from there, the sheer force of nature took over. McBurnie kept the defenders at bay, broke free and, with his left foot, found the far corner on the turn with nine minutes remaining.
Go on time. Always still time. Doyle liked it, at 25 meters. He watched that top corner up and hit a rolling ball into Pears’ top corner. He took his fingers with him and left the ceiling.