Brilliant Blades form makes them too sharp from Charlton
Charlton Athletic will kick-off their FA Cup quarter-final with Sheffield United bottom of the Championship. That means there are a mere 11 places between them and their League One hosts.
Until recently, relegation was a real prospect for the Blades too, but Nigel Clough has turned their season around. This may be a meeting of the two sides least likely to lift the FA Cup (Coral offer odds of 66/1 on Sheffield United or 80/1 on Charlton going all the way), but one is guaranteed an appearance a day out at Wembley.
Chris Powell’s Addicks have won two of their last four visits to Bramall Lane but, despite being a division higher (for now), they are 23/10 outsiders for victory here. A draw, and thus a replay at the Valley to decide who advances to the semis, is the same price.
The Blades start as 13/10 favourites for yet another home win and odds-on at 5/6 to qualify from this tie, because of giant-killings caused by Clough en route to this encounter.
Aston Villa, Fulham and Nottingham Forest – two Premier League clubs and a side hopeful of reaching the top-flight via the play-offs – have all been eliminated in FA Cup clashes with United.
Clough has thus taken a far more difficult path to the quarter-finals than Charlton. They racked up away victories at League Two team Oxford United, and fellow second-tier bottom-half outfits in Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday to reach this tie.
When United last played the Londoners in the world’s oldest knockout football competition, they won. Substitute Lee Hendrie, best known for his long service to Aston Villa, scored a fourth round winner in 2009.
If punters fancy a repeat scoreline from that day of 2-1 to the Blades, then take tasty odds of 9/1. Chris Porter, whose late brace off the bench helped Clough knock out former club Forest, is a 5/1 shot to score last.
After emerging victorious from their round four replay at Fulham, United have won eight matches in a row in all competitions. They have also kept five successive clean sheets and a sixth is 6/4. Beating Charlton to nil, meanwhile, is a more attractive 12/5.
The prospect of that happening could be enhanced by the return of star defender Harry Maguire. He has just turned 21, and what he lacks in pace is more than compensated for by an ability to read situations, a maturity beyond his tender years and aerial dominance.
Maguire is also a proficient scorer from set pieces. Odds of 7/1 for a goal anytime are well worth taking. Another key component of the Blades revival has been the loan signings of John Brayford.
Clough knows how to get the best out of him, having worked with the right back at both Burton Albion and Derby County. Brayford also supplements attacks superbly from a defensive berth.
Powell, meanwhile, has doubts hanging over centre back Michael Morrison and Addicks top-scorer Simon Church. If those vital parts of Charlton’s spine are missing, punters should be very sanguine about their chances.
Back the Blades to book their place at Wembley.