SHEFFIELD Unitedâ€™s latest passage to a semi-final was soured by a post-match spat between their manager, Nigel Clough, and his Southampton counterpart, Ronald Koeman, in which the latter refused to shake hands.
As the home masses among a 21,000 crowd celebrated the League One clubâ€™s second last-four appearance in a cup competition this calendar year â€“ a rugged but deserved victory sealed by Marc McNultyâ€™s second-half tap-in â€“ Koeman snubbed his touchline adversary, later citing inappropriate conduct during the match as his reason for it. â€œI shake hands with people who have respect for me as a coach, who have respect for the fourth referee,â€ said Koeman. â€œThe behaviour of the bench of Sheffield United, Iâ€™ve never seen that [before]. That was the reason why I didnâ€™t shake hands.â€
Clough was particularly animated around the half-hour mark when the referee, Michael Oliver, played an advantage that was over almost before it began. He was still expressing his frustration to the fourth official, Paul Tierney, as Southampton received the first of five yellow cards on the night â€“ Nathaniel Clyne bringing down Bob Harris in an advanced position adjacent to the penalty area.
However, on another night of heady emotion in South Yorkshire, Clough insisted attention should not be deflected from the endeavour of his promotion-chasing League One team against a side that sat second in the Premier League just over a fortnight ago.
â€œThatâ€™s his opinion. I donâ€™t think one word should be said on it. We should talk about our lads â€“ thatâ€™s the story, not the manager,â€ Clough said. â€œThe 14 lads we put out there gave it absolutely everything and when you consider there were a couple of them from Ilkeston Town finishing the game â€“ a 17-year-old started, a right winger played at right-back and a midfielder filled in at centre-half â€“ it is a remarkable result.â€
This was no smash and grab, though, and Koeman did not contest the fairness of the result as United claimed a fourth top-flight scalp of 2014. Their second semi-final in the space of nine months â€“ following a Wembley defeat to Hull in April â€“ will be played over two legs in January.
â€œItâ€™s cup football and itâ€™s not about the level. Itâ€™s not the first time and itâ€™s not the last time a League One club will beat a Premier League team. Thatâ€™s football. You have to bring more quality on the pitch and we didnâ€™t. With all due respect, they made it very difficult for us and they deserve it because they got the best chances in the game,â€ Koeman added.
Southamptonâ€™s fifth consecutive defeat could and perhaps should have been by a wider margin. While Mark Howard, Unitedâ€™s goalkeeper, was forced into only one serious save, kicking away Sadio ManÃ©â€™s 70th-minute effort at his near post, his opposite number, Fraser Forster, was inundated with work, particularly in the second half of a spiky contest.
Jamie Murphy, whose trickery proved a constant problem to the visiting defence, hacked wide unmarked at the far post, then forced Forster to claw away a curving delivery that passed through a posse of bodies towards the bottom corner. Moments later, Michael Doyle stung the goalkeeperâ€™s palms after timing his burst on to the edge of the area to perfection.
Then, just after the hour, came the decisive moment. When, with the blood up, the home support roared for a penalty for ManÃ©â€™s trip on Louis Reed, they were disappointed. But not for long. Up stepped Harris, whose powerful low drive squirmed out of Forsterâ€™s grasp and offered Scottish striker McNulty the chance to convert from a yard and write his name on to Unitedâ€™s extraordinary list of modern cup success.
Clough has lost just two of 18 ties since taking over at Bramall Lane and this humbling of a Southampton side now looking a pale shadow of the one that won 11 times in 12 games earlier this season followed eliminations of three other top-flight opponents â€“ Aston Villa, Fulham and West Ham â€“ in 2014.
Southamptonâ€™s misery was compounded in the last minute when Florin Gardos was dismissed for a professional foul on McNulty. It is fair to say, Koeman has had better days. – The Guardian