A League Cup semi-final sandwich may give Preston North End a taste of cup success against Nigel Clough’s giant-killing Sheffield United side in the FA Cup tomorrow.
The Deepdale clash is nestled between United’s two-leg League Cup semi-final against Premier League stalwarts Tottenham Hotspur.
And after narrowly losing 1-0 to Spurs in the first leg on Wednesday night PNE’s League One rivals have every chance of causing yet another cup upset in the second leg at Bramall Lane next Wednesday.
Giant killing mastermind Clough has won 14 of his 18 cup matches as Blades boss and after dumping Tottenham’s fellow Premier League outfit’s Southampton and QPR out of cups this season United will have their eye on sealing an unlikely place in a coveted Wembley final.
North End themselves have a chance of reaching Wembley when they attempt to overturn a 2-0 JPT Northern Area Final first leg defeat to Walsall later this month.
And after the Blades slayed North End 2-1 at Bramall Lane earlier this month Clough hinted that the lure of playing on the biggest stage in English football may see a mass change of personnel tomorrow.
Speaking after that victory Clough said: “I’m not sure the league win will have too much bearing.
“They will be two changed sides.
“Simon Grayson has the JPT match ahead and we have the League Cup so I don’t think you will see the same intensity but I hope we will.”
In the last year alone Clough’s men have taken a number of higher league opposition scalps including Aston Villa, Fulham and West Ham.
Despite United’s rich cup pedigree the bookmakers are still backing PNE to end their four-match winless streak and dump the Blades out of the competition.
North End are 6/5 with Paddy Power to get through at the first attempt, United are BetVictor’s 5/2 outsiders and it’s 12/5 at bet365 for the tie to require a replay.
But Clough believes the victory over North End has given his men a psychological advantage but admitted he is not underestimating PNE.
Speaking after the 2-1 win Clough said: “I thought an incredible amount of hard work went in to that against a very good side.
“A lot of teams would crumble after going two down but Preston just upped the ante and threw more men in our box.
“Make no mistake, that was an important result for us. We needed that and because of who it’s come against psychologically it should do us the power of good.”
Since that defeat North End have been booed off twice at Deepdale after back-to-back draws with League One relegation candidates Leyton Orient and Yeovil Town.
Clough eyed an automatic spot after outfoxing PNE boss Simon Grayson, but his men remain in seventh spot – just outside the play-offs – after losing 1-0 to third-placed MK Dons last weekend.
And the United boss is still hoping to pip Preston to promotion.
He said: “We are still hoping to get in there. That’s what we are aiming to do.
“We were in the relegation zone this time last year and made up a much bigger margin to come seventh. So why can’t we do it again?
“We haven’t played really well yet, until now that is, but we are still right up there in the mix.”
Sheffield’s Scottish starlet Marc McNulty opened the scoring against PNE earlier this month.
McNulty has bagged 10 goals this season but Clough may be tempted to rest the 22-year-old striker with a League Cup final at stake on Wednesday.
And skipper Michael Doyle believes McNulty – who signed from Livingston is the summer – has enhanced the side and believes the Scot’s eye for goal can fire them to success.
He said: “Marc is probably something we’ve not had for a long time here, which is an out and out goalscorer.
“I certainly feel, and some of the other lads who have been here a while too will say the same, that we’ve probably got that man now.
“I always feel, if he starts or comes off the bench, that Marc will take a chance if one comes his way.
“But, like the manager says, he’s got to keep working hard and learning if he wants to be the player that we think he can be.
“If we match teams for workrate then, in people like Jamie Murphy, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Marc, we know we’ve got the match-winners who can make a difference.
“After all, they’ve shown it out there against PNE.