Nigel Clough insisted Sheffield United can still reach the last 16 of the FA Cup after rubbishing claims his team has blown their best chance of beating Fulham, writes James Shield.
United, who will host Nottingham Forest or Preston North End in the fifth phase of the competition if they win next month’s replay at Craven Cottage, came agonisingly close to claiming another top-flight scalp despite being reduced to 10 men during yesterday’s fourth round tie.
The League One club was leading courtesy of Chris Porter’s first-half strike when captain Michael Doyle received a straight red card following an off-the-ball incident with Chris David.
Clough, who later saw Hugo Rodallega equalise for the visitors, admitted Doyle’s dismissal had been a “turning point” of the game but insisted: “Of course we can go down there and win. We’ve already beaten Aston Villa at their place in the third round so why shouldn’t we believe it’s possible again?
“I thought the very least we deserved was a replay. Yes, Fulham showed their quality at times and put us under pressure. That’s exactly what you’d expect.
“But we carried a threat ourselves throughout, even after the red card, and that speaks volumes about the desire our lads showed.”
“A lot of people might argue that we can do without the extra game,” Clough, whose side return to action against Peterborough on Wednesday evening, added. “But I don’t agree with that at all.
“We’re still in the hat and we’re delighted at that. There were 16,000 people inside the stadium and the vast majority of them will be delighted to see us in there too.
“We’ll be giving the replay a real go. Giving everything to try and get through.”
With Doyle now facing a three match ban, United’s selections for the meeting with Peterborough could be complicated further if Porter and Harry Maguire fail to recover from injuries sustained before the midfielder’s exit.
“Chris felt his hamstring tightening up a little bit and so, rather than risk losing him for a long period, we thought it was best that he didn’t continue,” Clough said. “Harry got a kick on the side of his knee, right where the nerve is, which caused him a fair bit of discomfort.
“It’s still early days yet though so we’ll see how they are. We can’t rule them out yet.”
“I didn’t see the sending-off,” Clough added. “I’ll review it the television replays and I think we’d have won with 11.
“I’ve spoken about it with Michael and he admitted there was contact but not enough to warrant what happened.”
There was further controversy when referee Andre Marriner, who had earlier waved away Rodallega’s appeals for a spot-kick after tangling with George Long, also ruled that Aaron Hughes’ challenge on Ryan Flynn was not worthy of a penalty.
Marriner spoke with Clough at length after being alerted to his protests by the fourth official but the United manager revealed later: “Andre is one of the nicest people you could meet in football. Yes, we were frustrated by that decision but he came over to tell us to make sure that everyone stayed calm and kept their cool because he didn’t want to be in a position where someone else had to go.
“I thought that was a really sensible thing for him to do.”