Kevin Gage's Blades Column: Losing in the FA Cup will have hurt Chris Wilder, but it'll be good for Sheffield United in the long run

Kevin Gage Column

Kevin Gage Column

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Now then Blades... be honest. Hands up if you weren’t too bothered about not being in Mondays draw for the FA Cup 3rd round. No? Me neither!

I had a long time to think it through on the way back from Bolton on Sunday, but I realised that after spending the whole game willing us to win, or as it turned out, grabbing another late goal, a draw and a replay, I very quickly after the final whistle became quite happy that we’d lost.

Very happy actually, and I can’t actually remember EVER feeling that way about a Blades defeat! Before anyone judges me too harshly and I get accused of not caring or not being a ‘true Blade’ (what’s the criteria for that anyway?) I’d better explain.

I’ve long since stopped feeling about games and circumstances from a playing point of view, as I’ve been retired from professional football a long time! I now enjoy being a plain and simple fan, albeit hopefully an informed, experienced and fairly knowledgeable one. The fan in me desperately wants to see Sheffield United Football Club playing in a higher league than the one we’ve been marooned in for far too long, and this year we seem perfectly equipped to achieve that aim given our form of the past three or four months.

I read an excellent article online in Monday's Sheffield Star in which Danny Hall attempted to prove by some kind of methodology that we do better in League One when we have an extended cup run. To be fair, he did admit the formula used was a bit random, but I could see his point.

I could see it, but I wasn’t having any of it though, and the fan in me completely overrode any logic in that particular argument. The well-worn cliché “concentrate on the league” is not some mumbo-jumbo, double-dutch, nonsensical words that are just thrown together to make a sentence. They happen to make complete sense to me, and this season, they may well make more sense than having to grind through a few more rounds of a cup competition that we are, quite frankly, NOT going to win anyway.

Change the wording to “keep players fit and fresh for the league”, or “don’t get players booked or suspended for the league” or “put all our efforts into the league” and you begin to see my logic, and the logic of the vast majority of Blades fans I’ve read online and spoke to in person. This year, even after our cup heroics of the past few years, we just aren’t interested!

However, I can also speak from the experience of a playing point of view, and as such this is where fans views and players views will differ somewhat with regard to the result. You can be absolutely 100 per cent sure that every single Blades player on the pitch, on the bench, in the technical area, and everyone behind the scenes on the playing side will have wanted us to beat Bolton on Sunday because professional pride and competitiveness comes into play.

Players will have missed out on potential opportunities to match themselves against some of the country’s top Premier League and Championship teams and win bonuses will have been lost. All players dream of playing in a Wembley Cup Final, but very few ever are lucky enough or talented enough to get the chance.

Every year you are knocked out, is another year gone in a player’s career that he won’t be given that chance. I came close a couple of times, but didn’t play in a cup final, though the semi versus Wednesday in 1993 was as close to a final as you could possibly stage.

Managers are no different to players, by the way. We were sat high in the stand directly behind Chris Wilder on Saturday and his whole demeanour was of a manager who certainly didn’t want his side to get beaten. His late substitutions implied that he wanted to get at least a draw from the game and the players also gave it their absolute all, driving Bolton back into their own half for the majority of the game and dominating for long periods.

I thought we deserved a replay at the very least. Chris Wilder obviously expected more though and the 45 minute inquest in the dressing room afterwards suggested he wasn’t full of Christmas cheer with goodwill to all men in his team! Our manager clearly hates losing any game, in any competition and I have an inkling that he wanted to make sure the players got into the same mind-set.

If so, he will have put a marker down for the rest of the season and it may prove to be a managerial master-stroke come May. I hope so. However, I can’t help feeling that when the dust had settled from Sunday, the third round draw had been made, and the league fixtures would now be looked at and meticulously planned without any extra games, our manager may have just taken a deep breath, perhaps a sigh of relief, and quietly thought to himself ”Good... just concentrate on the league”.

He won’t ever admit to it of course, but we know, and we entirely understand. The FA Cup? No thanks. We have bigger fish to fry! UTB

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House: bar/hotel/cafe, High St, Dronfield. @ManorHouse_S18

Follow him on twitter: @gageykev