Occasionally, things line up beautifully. A youngster whose grandparents lifted the FA Cup with Manchester City in 1969 scored a last-minute winner; progression to the semi-final gave Sheffield United a real boost.
They needed it. Not just for the romance of Wembley and not just to continue the momentum they hope will see them back in the Premier League in May, but for the weather and the bank balance. A cup worth over £2 million is not to be sniffed at.
These are tough times on Bramall Lane. They may not be going into administration, but the finances are grim 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 took his team to the semi-finals with a brilliant shot in the 91st minute
The midfielder found the top corner as the game looked to be heading into extra time
Blades players celebrate with Doyle after he produced a magical moment in the cup tie
FACTS OF CORRESPONDENCE
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
Unused Subs: Davies, Fleck, Norwood, Coulibaly, Arblaster, Jebbison
Manager: Paul Heckingbottom7
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
Unused Subs: Kaminski, Edun, Phillips, Leonard
Manager: Jon Dahl Tomasson5
Judge: Tim Robinson 5
This was a horrible campaign off the field, but a joyous one on it. Paul Heckingbottom and his team deserve immense credit for finishing second in the Championship and now in the four FA Cup finals, despite continued uncertainty over money.
All that can be forgotten for today, something made possible by Tommy Doyle, a young midfielder on loan from Manchester City. When the clock passed 90, he thought why not? Twenty-five meters from the goal, a quick touch and that’s it.
The moment continues a wonderful family history in the competition, with grandfathers Mike Doyle and Glyn Pardoe being part of that City super team in the 1960s. ‘Tommy is very down to earth,’ said Heckingbottom. ‘He was brought up on football and knows what it takes to succeed. He has the right attitude and that comes from his family.’
The goal matched the tie, although Jon Dahl Tomasson wanted play to stop after Tyler Morton was caught in the eye. Out of breath from the first minute, and a champion team in the semifinals for the first time in eight years. Through the wringer, Heckingbottom and assistant Stuart McCall hugged like they’d won everything full-time. Jack Lester attempted a jig down the sideline. Bramall Lane remained as one, no one left. That’s what adversity can do. It’s fuel.
Blackburn Rovers, meanwhile, remain just one of six teams in the top four divisions that never made it to the new Wembley. The last trip was in 1992 and Tomasson will wonder if going back to the five-a-side when 2-1 in the last 10 minutes was the right thing to do. They think this score should be reversed. “We should have been out of sight,” Tomasson said.
They were ahead twice, pulled 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 good stops to keep the level going when he deflected Sam Gallagher’s header over the bar. But as Morton trotted to take a corner for Blackburn, someone whispered in referee Tim Robinson’s ear.
Gallagher’s headbutt hit Jack Robinson’s arm at his side as he spun. He would have done well to have him anywhere else, but handball law is a pain. Ben Brereton-Diaz took the penalty firmly and headed straight for the home fans in a corner, urging them on as he charged forward.
VAR involvement and delays bring a sense of frustration to any stadium it’s installed in, but this one is particularly hostile, so when United equalized seven minutes later, the home fans felt some justice.
Max Lowe ended up hitting a half wide corner, but his shot flew harmlessly wide, only for Gallagher to flick a leg out. Incredibly, Blackburn’s No 9 deflected into the right corner past Aynsley Pears. Bramall Lane’s halls howled with laughter when the own goal was replayed at half-time, while they gasped when Jack Robinson – already booked for the penalty – escaped further reproach when penalized for attacking late.
George Baldock celebrates after the final whistle ends the fun game
By then referee Robinson, who made his Premier League debut at Wolves earlier this month, had lost control. Anthony Taylor, also Manchester City’s fourth official on Saturday, was left on the touchline with an earache. The afternoon, and its intensity, seemed to pile up on Robinson.
Heckingbottom’s side were on top, although Foderingham excellently denied Dominic Hyam’s header before a double save by Harry Pickering and then Gallagher. United were guilty of overplaying, forwards wanting to beat too many men or trying extra loose passes rather than shooting. Starting to find threatening spaces, James McAtee squandered a great chance as he latched onto a loose pass from Lewis Travis.
And, on the spot, Rovers regained the lead through heavy pressure in midfield. Lowe shorted Doyle and the visitors went on, Gallagher taking possession and passing Sammie Szmodics, who did what McAtee could not moments earlier.
Betting, just as Heckingbottom switched from a defender to a striker – Billy Sharp coming on for Robinson – then Rovers hit the post. Ryan Hedges drove inside and into the close post by Foderingham, the effort wriggling the line without overtaking.
Tomasson’s changes were designed to preserve the lead. Lowe ran into the box, heading towards Oli McBurnie and from there, the pure force of nature took over. McBurnie broke away from the defenders, broke free and, with his left foot, clipped the far corner into the corner with nine minutes to go.
Still time. Always still time. Doyle figured, 25 yards out. He looked that top corner up and hit a ball rolling towards Pears’ top corner. The goalkeeper’s fingers went with him.