Clash of the in-form teams

THE best teams in Division One on current form lock horns in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Bramall Lane.Sheffield United, who gave Liverpool such a fright in the semi-final of the Worthington Cup, and Ipswich Town, who have gone nine matches unbeaten, meet in what could be an epic battle.

THE best teams in Division One on current form lock horns in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Bramall Lane.

Sheffield United, who gave Liverpool such a fright in the semi-final of the Worthington Cup, and Ipswich Town, who have gone nine matches unbeaten, meet in what could be an epic battle.

The directors, both at Bramall Lane and Portman Road, would welcome extra funds from a cup run, but the target of both clubs this season must be a return to the financial security of the Premiership.

Three points from the league match at Portman Road on February 8 is perhaps more important in both camps than a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Yet there is something very appealing about cup success. It contributes towards dressing room confidence while a fifth-round tie could be a cracker to fill Portman Road or even an easy one to pave the way for a place in the quarter-finals.

Blades' boss Neil Warnock may not be universally popular with all his managerial colleagues. There is no doubt about his commitment to a club he supported as a lad.

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The United players may be weary after playing extra-time at Liverpool on Tuesday, but Warnock has players with fresh legs in reserve. The speedy Steve Kabba from Crystal Palace was cup-tied for the Worthington but is hungry for FA Cup glory.

Two Sheffield United strikers have been in winning sides against Ipswich this season. Kabba scored twice for Grimsby Town in their 3-0 win at Blundell Park on October 8 which turned out to be George Burley's final game in charge. The previous month Tommy Mooney, on loan from Birmingham City, helped Stoke City in their 2-1 victory over Town at the Victoria Ground.

Then there is 34-year-old Wayne Allison, who could so easily have been a Boston United player.

“For me, this is the best season of my career so far and hopefully it's not over yet,” proclaimed Allison after scoring in United's 3-1 victory in the Steel City's derby triumph over Sheffield Wednesday.

“What we as a club are going through is fantastic. We are on a hell of a roll and it's a case of bring on the next game. We are showing just what can be achieved at this club but we've won nothing yet. We know there's still a long way to go but hopefully we are on the right track.

“We are looking forward to every match and enjoying it. If you are enjoying your football and scoring and winning, there's nothing better.”

Dean Windass, on loan from Middlesbrough, is cup-tied.

Ipswich are also on a roll and they have lost only once in their last eight visits to Bramall Lane. They drew 0-0 there in the league in November and today's tie may also see defences dominate.

The Blades are solid at the back. Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, secured from Bury, is first choice ahead of the long-serving Simon

Tracey, who has been at Bramall Lane since 1988. A sore knee has prevented Kenny from taking goal-kicks but he seems agile enough when it comes to making saves.

Central defender Robert Page, a Watford stalwart until the arrival of Gianluca Vialli with his expensive ideas, is now proving his worth in Yorkshire. Australian Shaun Murphy broke his nose at Anfield, but he's a tough sort and will be keen to play.

Stuart McCall, ending a grand career in style, operates as a defensive midfielder. He uses all the experience he accumulated at Bradford City, Everton and Rangers.

Ipswich will need to watch out for the explosive Michael Brown, one of the most lively midfield men in the Nationwide League. His clash with Liverpool goalkeeper Chris Kirkland led to loads of publicity, but it should not be forgotten that the Blades are lying second in the Fair Play League.

Phil Jagielka, whose brother Steve was in the Shrewsbury team that claimed Everton's scalp in the third round, has a long throw which must be watched while Zimbabwe international Peter Ndlovu is not yet 30 although he seems to have been around for ages with Coventry City and Birmingham City.

It has been evident in recent matches that Sheffield United are able to raise the pace of their game in the later stages. If Ipswich establish a one-goal lead, as Sheffield Wednesday managed at Bramall Lane this month, they would be unwise to switch to defensive mode to protect their advantage.

Nick Montgomery will be ruled out for six weeks after chipping a bone in his ankle during the tie at Anfield on Tuesday. Blades' midfielder Michael Tonge has had the booking he incurred in the Sheffield derby rescinded after referee Rob Styles viewed video evidence. He still misses today's tie after being booked for the fifth time this season in the Worthington Cup first-leg win over Liverpool.

Ipswich Town have had some tremendous tussles with the Blades in recent years, the Division One play-off semi-finals still fresh in the memory. Today will be only the fourth meeting between the clubs in the FA Cup.

The first was in the third round in January 1973 at Portman Road. Ipswich won 3-2 when Kevin Beattie scored with two headers in a 90-second spell just before the interval.

The teams on that occasion were:

Ipswich Town: Best; Burley, Mills, Morris, Hunter, Beattie, Hamilton, Viljoen, Johnson, Whymark and Lambert.

Sheffield United: Connaughton; Badger, Hemsley, Flynn, Colquhoun Speight, Woodward, Eddy, Dearden, Currie and Salmons.

Hamilton (21 mins) and Beattie (44 and 45 mins) scored for Ipswich. Salmons (26 mins) and Currie (38 mins) scored for the Blades. The gate was 17,929. Ipswich beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the fourth round, the Reds being relegated from Division One that season together with Southampton and Norwich City.

The next meetings were in the fourth round in 1998. Ipswich could only draw 1-1 at Portman Road. David Johnson headed the opening goal just before the interval only for Dean Saunders to level from the penalty spot eight minutes from the end after Bobby Petta had fouled Marcelo. Chris Short was sent off for a challenge on Mauricio Taricco, a player whose meetings with United were so often controversial.

In the replay Taricco conceded a 13th-minute penalty after a clash with Marcelo, the Brazilian getting the verdict over the Argentinian. Don Hutchison netted but David Johnson failed to equalise with a spot-kick for Ipswich.

Honours are therefore equal in the FA Cup with a win for each club and a draw. The stage is set for further pressure and maybe more heroics today.

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