March to Wembley: Sheffield United skipper spurred on by being written off

Nigel Clough and Michael Doyle
Nigel Clough and Michael Doyle

According to many so-called experts, Hull City are already assured of a place in next month’s FA Cup final.

But, as Michael Doyle warned ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Steve Bruce’s side, Sheffield United love nothing better than proving folk wrong.

“You could make a case that we should have lost every single round we’ve been in so far,” the former Republic of Ireland international said. “It’s one I’ve heard a lot of people argue, too.

“The thing is, the thing there’s absolutely no disputing, is that they’ve made the wrong call all the way through. And, I’m not going to deny it, listening to stuff like that does spur you on.”

Doyle, United’s captain and midfield general, epitomises the tenacious spirit which has seen the League One club travel from the Weston Homes Stadium to Wembley in five short months.

An achievement made even more remarkable by the fact that, only eight weeks ago, they were being described as relegation fodder rather than a team now potentially 180 minutes away from lifting the most coveted domestic knockout trophy in the world.

Doyle, a quiet, unassuming character off the pitch but ferocious terrier on it, makes no attempt to disguise the fact that Nigel Clough’s players have enjoyed making the critics eat their words.

Nevertheless, speaking as his colleagues prepared to depart for London, he acknowledged United have been forced to overcome some significant hurdles en route.

“To a degree, I can understand why people didn’t expect us to get through the early rounds, let alone this far. When we went down to Colchester right at the start we hadn’t won away from home for a long, long time.

“Then, at Cambridge, they were flying at the time and had a tremendous record at their place. The television cameras were there and that was because they sensed there might be an upset but, again, we got the job done.

“After that we came up against two Premier League teams [Aston Villa and Fulham].

“Then, there was [Nottingham] Forest who were on an amazing run and Charlton [Athletic] who were also from a division above.

“We’ve had to dig deep along the way but I think we’ve shown what we’re capable of when we perform to our best. There are a lot of talented lads here in this squad and beating some of the names we have doneC underlines that.

“There’s a lot of reasons why people are saying we shouldn’t really be here. But we are.”

Like United, now safely nestled in mid-table after their fliration with the bottom four, Doyle’s reputation has enjoyed a dramatic makeover since being dismissed during that fourth round tie with Fulham.

Then, the 32-year-old was labelled a liability by sections of the Bramall Lane support.

However, after returning from a three-match suspension, the qualities which have convinced five different managers to hand him the armband are recognised by most of those set to make the 156 mile journey to the capital.

Doyle, previously of Celtic, Coventry and Leeds, performs a crucial role protecting a defence which, entering Tuesday’s derby with Rotherham, had been breached only five times in nearly 22 hours of football.

“We know Hull are going to be the favourites,” he said. “And quite rightly so because they’re a Premier League team. Everyone will be expecting them to do it.

“But we’re a tight knit bunch who work for each other and give everything we’ve got. Yes, they [City] will probably fancy their chances of doing it because, let’s be honest, we are the team they’ll have wanted to draw.

“Many of us, though, know that we might not get this chance again and so it’s one we are determined to try and take. We haven’t come all this way just to enjoy a day out.”