Occasionally things align beautifully. A young man whose grandfathers lifted the FA Cup with Manchester City in 1969 scored a last-minute winner; progression to a semi-final provided Sheffield United with a real fillip.
They needed it. Not just for the romance of Wembley and not just to continue momentum that they hope will take them straight back to the Premier League come May, but for the mood and the bank balance. A cup run worth more than £2million is not to be sniffed at.
These are tough times at Bramall Lane. They might not be heading into administration but the financials are bleak 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 side into the semi-finals with a brilliant strike in the 91st minute of the game
The midfielder found the top corner when the game looked headed for extra-time
The Blades players celebrates with Doyle after he produced a magic moment in the cup tie
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
Subs not used: Davies, Fleck, Norwood, Coulibaly, Arblaster, Jebbison
Manager: Paul Heckingbottom 7
Blackburn Rovers (4-2-3-1): Pears 6; Rankin-Costello 6 (Brittain 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
Subs not used: Kaminski, Edun, Phillips, Leonard
Manager: Jon-Dahl Tomasson 5
Referee: Tim Robinson 5
This has been a horrible campaign off the pitch yet joyous on it. Paul Heckingbottom and his squad deserve immense credit for lying second in the Championship and now in the FA Cup’s final four despite the ongoing uncertainty over money.
All that can be forgotten for the day, something made possible by Tommy Doyle, a young midfielder on loan from Manchester City. As the clocked ticked past 90, he thought why not? Twenty-five yards from goal, a quick touch, and there it sailed.
The moment continues a wonderful family history in the competition, with grandparents Mike Doyle and Glyn Pardoe part of that super City team in the 1960s.
‘Tommy’s very grounded,’ Heckingbottom said. ‘He’s been brought up in football and he knows what it takes to succeed. He has the right attitude and that comes from his family.’
The goal befitted the tie, although Jon Dahl Tomasson wanted the game stopped after Tyler Morton was caught in the eye. Breathless from the first minute, and a Championship team in the semi-finals for the first time in eight years.
Through the wringer, Heckingbottom and assistant Stuart McCall embraced as if they had won the whole thing at full time. Jack Lester went for a jig down the touchline. Bramall Lane stood as one, nobody left. This is what adversity can do. It’s fuel.
Blackburn Rovers, meanwhile, remain only one of only six teams in the top four divisions still never to have reached the new Wembley. Their last trip was in 1992 and Tomasson will wonder if reverting to a back five when 2-1 up going into the final 10 minutes was the right thing to do. They feel this scoreline should be reversed. ‘We should have been out of sight,’ Tomasson said.
They were ahead twice, pegged back and then fell behind with no real time left. Rovers led after 21 minutes. Wes Foderingham thought he had completed the first of a few fine stops to keep this level when tipping Sam Gallagher’s header over the bar. But, as Morton trotted over to set a Blackburn corner, someone whispered in referee Tim Robinson’s ear.
Gallagher’s header had struck the arm of Jack Robinson, out by his side while spinning. He’d have done well to have it anywhere else but the handball law is a pain. Ben Brereton-Diaz firmly stroked the penalty in and made a beeline for the home fans in one corner, goading them as he went.
VAR’s involvement, and the delays, brings a sense of frustration in whichever stadium it is installed but this one is particularly hostile so when United equalised seven minutes later the home supporters felt some justice.
Max Lowe wound up to strike a half-cleared corner but his shot was flying harmlessly wide, only for Gallagher to waft a leg out. Incredibly, Blackburn’s No 9 diverted it into Aynsley Pears’ far right-hand corner. Bramall Lane’s concourses howled with laughter when the own goal was replayed at the break, while they gasped as Jack Robinson – already on a booking for the penalty – escaped further censure when penalised for lunging in late.
George Baldock celebrates after the final whistle brought an end to the entertaining game
By this point referee Robinson, who made his Premier League debut at Wolves earlier this month, had lost control. Anthony Taylor, also fourth official at Manchester City on Saturday, stood on the touchline suffering earache. The afternoon, and the intensity of it, appeared to heap on top of Robinson.
Heckingbottom’s side were on top, although Foderingham excellently denied Dominic Hyam’s header before a double save from Harry Pickering and then Gallagher. United were guilty of overplaying, attackers wanting to beat one too many men or attempting loose extra passes rather A
than shooting. Beginning to find menacing spaces, James McAtee spurned a massive chance when latching on to a loose back pass by Lewis Travis.
And, on the hour, Rovers had their lead back through strong pressing in midfield. Lowe sold Doyle short and the visitors were in, Gallagher picking up possession and slipping through Sammie Szmodics, who did what McAtee could not moments earlier.
Gambling, no sooner had Heckingbottom withdrawn a defender for a striker – Billy Sharp entering for Robinson – then Rovers were hitting the post. Ryan Hedges drove inside and into Foderingham’s near post, the effort squirming across the line without going over.
Tomasson’s changes were designed to preserve the lead. Lowe scamped inside the box, toeing towards Oli McBurnie and from there, the sheer force of nature took over. McBurnie chopped away from defenders, wriggled free, and left-footed, found the far corner on the turn with nine minutes left.
Still time. Always still time. Doyle fancied it, 25 yards out. Eyed that top corner up and thrashed a rolling ball towards Pears’ top corner. The goalkeeper’s fingers went with him.
Despite shining for Sheffield this season, McAtee and Doyle will not feature at Wembley. This is because the FA have confirmed that loan players are not allowed to play against their parent clubs in the FA Cup.
Therefore, Sheffield’s semi-final draw against Manchester City rules out both Doyle and McAtee – which is a substantial blow to Heckingbottom and the fans.