Sheffield United: Neill thrives on cup pressure

Neill Collins is a big fan of the FA Cup � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Neill Collins is a big fan of the FA Cup � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Far from regarding it as an intrusion, Neill Collins has positively embraced the hype surrounding tomorrow’s FA Cup quarter-final with Charlton Athletic, writes James Shield.

And the former Scotland under-21 international, who is expected to anchor Sheffield United’s defence against Chris Powell’s side, last night urged his colleagues to do the same as they prepare for what, the League One club hopes, will be a historic encounter at Bramall Lane.

“A trait of 99 per cent of footballers is that they want success and all the limelight that goes with it,” Collins said. “If you asked all the players who would want to score the winner in front of the Kop it would be a case of ‘’I’ll have a bit of that.’

“Everyone’s mindset should be about trying to make a name for themselves. Because, make no mistake, if you do that, you will forever be remembered here at Sheffield United.”

United’s march to the brink of becoming the first third tier team to reach the semi-finals since Wycombe Wanderers 13 years ago has captured the imagination of England’s footballing public.

“On the radio recently, I heard someone say what needs to be done to improve and change the cup,” Collins, from Troon, said. “I just think you have got the best cup competition in the world, without a shadow of a doubt, so what needs changing?

“It’s one where teams from League Two can give Premiership teams a game. That’s what makes it special.

“I remember as a boy growing up in Scotland that the FA Cup was still big. The thought of Wembley in the FA Cup final was fantastic and the (final day) coverage used to start so early.

“Wembley catches people’s imagination. With the way in which the top teams are scrambling for trophies and silverware makes the cup all the better, especially when these teams draw each other.”

“People might demean the FA Cup, but just look at the winners over the past ten or twenty years,” Collins continued. “Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal - it’s all your top teams.

“It’s a major piece of silverware. To be in this round, having started in the first is just phenomenal and if we can go another step, it will be a fantastic achievement.”

United, whose cup journey began at Colchester four months ago, beat the likes of Aston Villa and Fulham before overcoming Nottingham Forest in the previous round.

With a near capacity crowd expected to watch tomorrow’s contest, Collins said: “Just the thought of Bramall Lane, you can imagine what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be intimidating for Charlton and fantastic for us and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.

“Anyone who was at the Forest game, you can probably put that up two notches and still probably not be there. It’s something to really look forward to.”

Speaking earlier this week, United manager Nigel Clough rubbished suggestions that his players are favourites to progress having recorded eight straight victories and kept five consecutive clean sheets.

Echoing those sentiments, Collins said: “I think anyone who is inside football knows how tough they are going to be. They are well-organised and hard to break down and beat QPR 1-0 last week who are top of the league.

“People might be mentioning us as favourites but that’s ridiculous. They are in a higher league than us and we are in mid-table in League One.

“We don’t want to give them any more ammunition which they had in the previous round when they really out to make themselves prove people wrong. They did that and hopefully they won’t do that again.

“We are so near yet so far.”

“You want to be playing in games where people are interested and it means something for them to come,” Collins added. “Sometimes as a professional, you just forget what you are involved in and get on with it.

“But when you step back and think you are playing in an FA Cup quarter-final or semi-final, these are big games.

“You try not to think about it but it’s also good to know what’s awaiting you and keep it in the back of your mind.”