The epic tale of their FA Cup campaign began with Cheltenham Town and were fortunate to be drawn at home in every round, with the obvious exception of the semi-final were neutral ground was forced upon them. They beat the Robins emphatically by four goals to nil and advanced further with straight wins over Ipswich Town and Walsall before the visit of local rivals Leeds United in the Quart-Final stage of the competition.
Round 3 - Saturday, 4 January 2003
Sheffield United 4 Cheltenham Town 0
Sheffield United made sure that there was not going to be a Cup upset at Bramall Lane as Neil Warnock's Red and White Wizaaards beat Second Division Cheltenham Town 4-0 to put them in the fourth round draw. Two first half goals came from Shaun Murphy and Jon-Paul McGovern and two second half strikes from Steve Kabba took the Blades through to round four. The Blades took the lead in the ninth minute with their first attack, McGovern's corner from the right hand side was scrambled off the line after Murphy headed but Shaun Murphy put in the rebound at the second attempt.
Paul Peschisolido was let loose on the left flank four minutes later where his low cross met Nick Montgomery where his shot was well saved by Robins goalkeeper Steve Book. Cheltenham then had a change to level the score line when right-back Neil Howarth played a one-two with Richard Forsyth who rushed into the box but Murphy blocked as he tried to beat him. A minute later the Blades doubled their lead, Steve Kabba put a low cross from the left hand side, Peschisolido swung at the ball but missed at the near post, but Jon-Paul McGovern steamed in late behind the Canadian International and smashed the ball past Book from six yards out.
United where in charge of the game and went close to a 3rd when Jon-Paul McGovern's right-wing cross came off Michael Duff's head and fell to Michael Tonge, but his shot which was going wide forced a corner from Book. In the 41st minute Book was called into action yet again when Jagielka shot past him after Peschisolido teed off a short pass to the right back. On the hour mark Jagielka had another pop at goal but this one was much better, his right footer shot from20 yards out brought out a fantastic save from Book as he dived low to his right.
However Book could not stop the Blades scoring their third in the 63rd minute as they killed the game. Steve Kabba partnered up with Peschisolido where Peschisolido cross low to Kabba who fired low across Book into the far corner. Kabba drilled another low shot wide from 15 yards five minutes later and almost scored with a deflection off his backside with 15 minutes remaining after McGovern's shot hit him and almost deceived Book. The Blades almost added a fourth in the 78th minute when substitute Laurens Ten Heuvel, on for Peschisolido, beat John Brough and rolled the ball across to Montgomery, whose powerful shot from eight yards was well tipped over by Book.
Howarth headed over the top from the right-wing corner with eight minutes remaining. The fourth did come for the Blades in the 84th minute when Kabba scored from close range with a back-header following a spell of head tennis as Cheltenham failed to clear their line from a corner. Cheltenham were then denied an injury-time consolation goal when substitute Julian Alsop's cut-back from the right was cut out by Kenny with another substitute, Paul Brayson, waiting to pounce.
Sheffield United: - Kenny, Murphy, Kozluk, Page, Jagielka, Tonge (Smith 80), Montgomery, McGovern, McCall, Kabba, Peschisolido (Ten Heuvel 66). Unused: Ndlovu, Allison
Cheltenham Town: - Book, Victory, Brough, Howarth, Yates, McAuley (Alsop 58), M.Duff, Forsyth, Finnigan (Simpkins 85), Devaney, Spencer (Brayson 77). Unused: Higgs, S.Duff
Round 4 - Saturday, 25 January 2003
Sheffield United 4 Ipswich Town 3
Sheffield United marched into the Football Association Cup Round Five with a 4-3 victory over Division One rivals Ipswich Town with two goals from Michael Brown. Substitute Paul Peschisolido ensured team-mate Michael Brown's birthday celebrations went with a bang when he snatched a last-ditch winner to finally kill off Ipswich in this FA Cup fourth round tie. Peschisolido struck from close range to break Town's hearts with an 89th-minute decider after the visitors had fought their way back from 3-0 down inside a remarkable four minutes.
Brown, who was 26 on Saturday, fired the Blades ahead with a well-taken 19th-minute goal and then, after defender Phil Jagielka had added a second on 31 minutes, smashed a brilliant 30-yard volley past Andy Marshall to make it 3-0 with just 26 minutes remaining. But Joe Royle's men dragged themselves back on to level terms as defender Thomas Gaardsoe, Tommy Miller from the penalty spot and teenage substitute Darren Bent all found the back of the net, only for Peschisolido to dash their hopes.
If the disappointment of Tuesday night's Worthington Cup defeat by Liverpool was having an effect on Neil Warnock's players, it certainly did not show before the break as they made the most of their share of a reasonably even game to fire themselves into what looked like a winning position. Neither United's Wilko de Vogt, in for the injured Paddy Kenny, nor Andy Marshall had a save worthy of the name to make in the opening 15 minutes or so as their outfield colleagues failed to find the killer pass when it mattered most.
But it was something special from Brown which set the game alight with 19 minutes gone. The former Manchester City midfielder - sold to the Blades by Royle during his time at Maine Road - picked up possession some 35 yards out from goal and, after homing in on the target, curled a low right-foot shot past the helpless Marshall from the edge of the box to give his side the lead. Spaniard Pablo Counago wasted a glorious opportunity to level from Jermaine Wright's inch-perfect 26th-minute cross, and the miss proved costly as United struck once again.
On-loan Striker Tommy Mooney, making his first start for the club, headed a Wayne Quinn corner against the post, and Jagielka was on hand to slam the loose ball home to make it 2-0. Royle replaced wing-back Fabian Wilnis with teenage midfielder Darren Ambrose at the break then sent on another 18-year-old, Darren Bent, for Magilton on 57 minutes, but it was United who continued to dominate. And it was the latter that almost got the visitors back on track when his explosive run down the right took him past Blades skipper Robert Page and into the penalty area, but when he laid the ball on a plate for Ambrose, the youngster blasted high over with the goal at his mercy.
Ambrose was just as wasteful a minute later after being set up by Miller, but he was handed a lesson in finishing by the impressive Brown on 64 minutes. Quinn's long free-kick was cleared to the midfielder 30 yards out, and he unleashed an unstoppable volley which screamed past Marshall and into the back of the net. But, just as it looked as though the tie was over, Town hit back in astonishing fashion.
Gaardsoe's 65th-minute strike looked little more than a consolation, but after Miller was felled by Jagielka inside the box three minutes later, the midfielder dusted himself down and slotted home the penalty to give the visitors real hope. And they did not have to wait much longer for the equaliser when Darren Bent exploded down the right once again on 69 minutes, and after muscling his way past Quinn, beat de Vogt from close range. Ambrose almost atoned for his earlier misses with a long-range shot after de Vogt had strayed from his penalty area to head a deep ball clear, but the keeper recovered well to claw his effort away at the last minute. But there was to be further drama when, with just a minute remaining, the Town defence failed to deal with Quinn's long throw and Peschisolido fired home from close range to snatch victory at the death.
Sheffield United: - de Vogt, Quinn, Kozluk, Page, Jagielka, McCall, Brown, Thompson, Mooney (Peschisolido 79), Ndlovu, Kabba (Allison 72). Unused: Wood, Edghill, Yates.
Ipswich Town: - Marshall, Makin, Hreidarsson, Wilnis (Ambrose 46), Magilton, Holland, Wright, Miller, Gaardsoe, Counago, M.Bent. Unused: Pullen, Richards, Abidallah, D.Bent
Round 5 - Saturday, 15 February 2003
Sheffield United 2 Walsall 0
Sheffield United marched on to the Football Association Cup Quarter-Finals after beating Division One rivals Walsall 2-0 at Bramall Lane with Tommy Mooney and Peter Ndlovu netting the two match winning goals. Tommy Mooney’s first half strike and Peter Ndlovu's second half header won the game for The Red And White Wizards and handing them a place in the Quarter-Finals as well as a cool £125,000 to add to their prize winnings. The winnings, adding to the £150,000 plus the £1,500,000 made from the Worthington Cup has meant that United could keep stars such as Michael Brown. In the next round United will gain a further £265,000 as all games from that round will be in Television.
The Blades have gone 15 games unbeaten at Bramall Lane, their last defeat was to the hands of Watford on 28 September 2002, these include a massive twelve victories and three draws. Walsall, who are currently battling against relegation have never reached the FA Cup Quarter-Finals in there long 115 year history and showed no sign of braking that duck as they struggled against the Blades. The defeat was compounded when boss Colin Lee was dismissed from the dug-out midway through the second half by Chester-le-Street referee Mark Clattenburg for what appeared to be dissent.
United, though, started like a side which had lost three of their previous four matches, and still in shock after the events at Portman Road last week. It was a case of the manager of the month award providing its customary hoodoo for Warnock's promotion-chasers squandered a 2-0 lead against Ipswich, losing 3-2 against 10 men. United's defence were slow out of the blocks, or perhaps they were blinded by the wintry sun, the brightness of which was matched by the bleached-blond, close-cropped haircut of Walsall's Brazilian striker Junior.
He at least looked lively in the opening exchanges. Junior first dragged a shot wide with just over a minute gone and then teed up forward partner Jorge Leitao soon after, only for the Portuguese star to miscue horribly. Junior had the Saddlers' only other effort of the half on the quarter-hour mark as Steve Corica's slide-rule through-ball gave him a fine opportunity, but an attempted goal-bound flick was beaten away by the right hand of Paddy Kenny. It was the wake-up call United needed for they then proceeded to take control of the game, albeit without seriously threatening Saddlers goalkeeper Jimmy Walker.
Walker, who had once served under Warnock during their days at Nott’s County, had made just one save prior to picking the ball out of his net eight minutes from the break. A powerful, low, ninth-minute right-foot drive from Steve Kabba was superbly tipped beyond the right-hand post, and it was the United striker who played his part in the opening goal of the game. Kabba fed Michael Brown for a 16-yard curling shot which Walker did well to turn away, but only into the path of Mooney for an angled tap home and his first Blades goal since his loan from Birmingham last month.
Walker then denied Kabba and Mooney either side of the break before Ndlovu sealed United's passage into the last eight with a far post header in the 56th minute after a looping Brown cross from the left wing had evaded Walker's outstretched grasp. Junior and Leitao had chances to hand Walsall a lifeline either side of Lee's dismissal, but it never materialised and instead they were left to reflect on their sixth failure in attempting to reach the last eight.
Sheffield United: - Kenny, Quinn, Murphy, Page, Jagielka, Tonge, Brown, McCall, Mooney (Allison 77), Ndlovu, Kabba (Peschisolido 75). Unused: Kozluk, Yates, Ten Heuvel.
Walsall: - Walker, Carbon (Roper 46), Bazeley, Hay, Aranalde, O'Connor (Matias 46), Corica, Simpson, Junior, Leitao, Wrack. Unused: Ward, Barras, Zdrillic.
Round 5 - Sunday, 9 March 2003
Sheffield United 1 Leeds United 0
Sheffield United beat Yorkshire rivals Leeds United to send them flying into the Football Association Cup Semi-Final with a superb goal from striker Steve Kabba. Steve Kabba steered Neil Warnock's high flyers to an FA Cup semi-final spot as they chalked up their second cup triumph over Terry Venables side in four months. United, who had previously dumped the Elland Road side out of the Worthington Cup, stuck in the 78th minute in a scrappy game littered with mistakes.
And Neil Warnock's side, pushing for promotion to the Premiership, effectively ended Leeds season with Venables pinning his hopes on an FA Cup win to steer his side into Europe. Mark Viduka carved out a half chance in the opening minutes, cutting inside from the left flank before lashing in a shot from the edge of the area that flew high over the Sheffield goal. Alan Smith almost found a way through in the 19th minute after Viduka let Harry Kewell's pass run to the little striker; he finished with a low shot snapped up by the diving United keeper.
Kewell should have snatched the lead ten minutes later, but his right-foot strike was blocked by the United keeper and when the ball came back Kewell smashed it high and wide. United danger man Michael Brown found space on the left minutes before half time, cutting inside to fire in a right-foot shot, the ball flying wide of the far post. Kabba almost broke the deadlock seconds after the restart surging into the area to drill in a stinging right-foot shot pushed over the top by Paul Robinson.
Kenny kept out Viduka sticking out a hand to spoon the ball away from the big striker before Seth Johnson almost grabbed an opener, his fierce drive from 20 yards smothered on the line by the United keeper. Kabba struck after Michael Tonge's shot had been blocked by Danny Mills, the ex-Crystal Palace striker produced a clinical finish to beat Robinson with a low shot from 12 yards. Brown nearly added a second, his free kick from the edge of the area tipped over the bar by the visiting keeper.
Sheffield United: - Kenny, Murphy, Kozluk, Page, Jagielka, Montgomery, Tonge, McCall, Brown, Allison, Kabba. Unused: Javary, Cryan, Smith, Peschisolido, Ten Heuvel.
Leeds United: - Robinson, Harte (Milner 81), Lucic, Bravo, Mills, Radebe, Johnson, Kewell (Bakke 46), Okon (Barmby 81), Viduka, Smith. Unused: Martyn, Killgallon.
Semi-Final Sunday, 13 April 2003
Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 0 (at Old Trafford)
Arsenal reached the FA Cup final by beating Sheffield United 1-0 with far more controversy than class at Old Trafford. Referee Graham Poll endured the wrath of the Division One side for his role in the build-up to Freddie Ljungberg's strike. Wayne Allison went down under a challenge from Sol Campbell but Poll decided not to blow the whistle.
Instead Arsenal broke at speed with Poll compounding United's grievances by colliding with Michael Tonge to prevent him from intercepting a pass which led ultimately to Arsenal's goal. The Gunners took full advantage through Ljungberg and, thanks to David Seaman's enduring reflexes with six minutes left to pull off an almost unbelievable save - and yet more good fortune, they eventually prevailed. It was not until the 35th minute that the game exploded into action, let alone controversy.
With Allison still lying on the ground after being unceremoniously tackled from behind by Campbell, Arsenal finally managed to break with their normal pace and poise. With first Allison and then Tonge out of the picture, Francis Jeffers was allowed space to scuffle his way to the by-line.
His low cross was scuffed against the far post by Wiltord, who chased the loose ball and saw his next effort blocked. However, the ball rebounded only as far as Ljungberg, who was lurking on the penalty spot and drove his shot high into the net. The real credit, however, went to Seaman, who somehow clawed the ball off the line after substitute Paul Peschisolido had flicked on Carl Asaba's shot with his head. That was the one moment of true class on a heated afternoon when United gave Arsenal a real run for their money but lacked the finishing or fortune to make it through.
Arsenal: - Seaman, Keown, Cole, Campbell, Lauren, Viera (Silva 56), Parlour, Edu, Ljungberg, Wiltord (Bergkamp 81), Jeffers (Henry 66). Unused: Taylor, Luzhny.
Sheffield United: Kenny, Curtis, Kozluk, Page, Jagielka, Tonge, McCall (Asaba 60), Brown, Allison (Montgomery 60), Ndlovu, Kabba (Peschisolido 79). Unused: Kelly, Murphy.
With Wembley out of action the final was taken to the Welsh capital of Cardiff where the Millennium Stadium would host the historic FA Cup Finals. Southampton had beaten First Division side Watford in their semi-final at Villa Park and Arsenal would go on to beat the Saints by a single goal to lift the trophy.