PNE cup opponents Blades still found cutting edge

Jamie Murphy scored twice as a substitute for Sheffield United on Saturday
Jamie Murphy scored twice as a substitute for Sheffield United on Saturday
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Nigel Clough had more than one eye on Tuesday’s FA Cup replay with Preston North End when he scribbled out the Sheffield United team-sheet for their weekend win over Swindon Town.

The Blades boss made 10 changes to the starting XI, midfielder Chris Basham the only survivor from last Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup clash with Tottenham.

His faith in those drafted into the side was justified as they beat Swindon to knock the Robins off top spot.

But Clough clearly had the replay in mind, with the prize for the winners a likely home tie with Manchester United.

“The changes were purely the after-effects of everything we put into the semi-final tie, not just physically but emotionally too,” said Clough.

“A few changes were enforced too and we wanted to give the youngsters an opportunity.”

Former Preston players Paul Coutts and Iain Turner were among those to benefit from squad rotation.

Coutts made his Blades debut in midfield after joining on a free transfer from Derby County.

But he is ineligible for the FA Cup having played for Derby in the third round.

Keeper Turner got a rare chance between the sticks to enable Mark Howard to rest a back injury.

It did take the introduction of one of their regulars from the bench to turn the game in their favour, Jamie Murphy scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.

He came on just before the interval to replace Michael Higdon, who was walking a disciplinary tightrope.

Said Clough: “We felt we had no choice but to bring Michael off because it was only a matter of time before he saw red.

“There was nothing malicious – it was just an accumulation of fouls.”

Murphy also had an impact as a substitute in the 1-1 draw with PNE at Deepdale 10 days ago and is a likely starter this evening.

Clough said: “Jamie’s goals on Saturday were both excellently taken.

“He showed terrific desire on both occasions to finish them off.

“They were two great finishes, two different ones.

“The second one was more difficult because he had so much time to think about with running clear.

“But he just waited for the goalkeeper, then dinked it over him.

“Brilliant finishes. He is in that confident mood and frame of mind at the moment.

“Jamie has caused Premier League defenders countless problems in our cup runs.”

Murphy had signed a new contract before the weekend together with centre-half Terry Kennedy.

After a run to the last four of the Capital One Cup, one only halted by a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Spurs, the Blades will be looking for further progress in the FA Cup at North End’s expense.

They reached last season’s semi-finals, beaten 5-3 by Hull City at Wembley in April.

This will be a third meeting in little more than three weeks between United and Preston.

The Blades won 2-1 in the league on January 10, Josh Brownhill netting PNE’s goal late in the game.

The cup game finished all square at Deepdale to set up this replay, Paul Gallagher on target for North End.