Tommy Doyle struck a stoppage-time winner to send Sheffield United into the FA Cup semi-finals as they got the better of fellow Championship side Blackburn Rovers in a breathless encounter.
Rovers went ahead on 21 minutes through Ben Brereton Diaz’s penalty, awarded following a VAR check after Jack Robinson’s handball.
But the lead was short-lived as the Blades equalised eight minutes later with a large chunk of fortune, Max Lowe’s long-range shot deflecting in off visiting striker Sam Gallagher.
Sammie Szmodics put Rovers back in front on the hour before Oli McBurnie equalised in the 81st minute to set up an exciting finale, crowned by on-loan Manchester City midfielder Doyle’s excellent long-range drive.
Victory means Sheffield United are into the semi-finals for the first time since 2014, when they ended up losing 5-3 to Hull, and will face Manchester City at Wembley.
However, Doyle and team-mate Jamie McAtee will not be allowed to play against City because loan players cannot face their parent clubs.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, getting the goal at the end and celebrating in front of the fans who were unbelievable – it’s a special feeling,” Doyle told BBC Radio Sheffield.
“It sat up lovely for me – I just touched it and thought, with the state of the game and how things were going, ‘I’m going to hit it’ and thankfully it flew into the top corner.”
It could be a memorable season for the Yorkshire side, who are second in the Championship and chasing a return to the Premier League.
“As players you want to step up in big moments – I say that to myself all the time, to try and step up and be counted, and thankfully today I did that and to be fair so did the lads,” added Doyle.
“We know that when we step up to the plate not many teams can live with us, and we needed to find another level at the end.”
While it was a euphoric finish for the Blades, it was heartbreaking for a Blackburn side who were looking to make it into their first semi-final since 2007 – and make a debut appearance at the new Wembley – though they remain in good shape for a play-off place in the second tier.
A topsy-turvy tie
Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side had looked comfortable heading into the final 10 minutes but, when McBurnie’s leveller went in, the hosts seized the initiative and with the crowd behind them, made it a fantastic finale that will live long in the memory of the Bramall Lane faithful.
Blackburn made a fast start to the game with Ryan Hedges finding top scorer Brereton Diaz on the edge of the box within the opening minute, but the striker could not quite get his shot away before being dispossessed.
The hosts weathered the early storm and James McAtee had a golden opportunity to put his side in front after eight minutes when he was put through on goal, but in the end it was a tame effort at Rovers goalkeeper Aynsley Pears.
Rovers then went up the other end to launch the attack that would lead to the opening goal, as Tyler Morton crossed for Gallagher and his shot on goal was blocked by Robinson’s arm.
Referee Tim Robinson did not initially give the spot-kick but was asked to consult the video monitor by VAR, and he awarded the penalty which Brereton Diaz despatched confidently.
The Blades’ equaliser came from a lucky break as Blackburn cleared a corner which came to Max Lowe about 25 yards out, and the defender’s shot was heading off-target before Gallagher stuck out a knee trying to make a block – only to see it spin away into the net.
The hosts created two good openings within minutes of the restart but McAtee’s heavy touch passed-up a good chance in the box before Sam Baldock hit the side-netting.
At the other end, Wes Foderingham was then forced into a fine double save, first diving low to his left to deny Harry Pickering and then pushing out Brereton Diaz’s follow-up.
McAtee then missed another big chance shortly before the hour as he seized on Lewis Travis’ loose pass to go one-on-one with Pears, with the goalkeeper poking out a boot to deny him again.
Szmodics showed him how it was done moments later when Morton won the ball back in midfield and found Gallagher, who slipped the midfielder in and he finished expertly, shooting across Foderingham into the corner.
Rovers were a whisker away from a third with 20 minutes remaining as Ryan Hedges’ well-struck left-foot shot beat Foderingham, only to hit the inside of the post and roll across the goalmouth.
The hosts had looked to be struggling to find an equaliser but were back on level terms with 10 minutes left when McBurnie collected Lowe’s pass before turning past two defenders and finishing low past Pears.
The goal changed the momentum completely and the hosts poured forward in search of the winner, which when it came was a strike of real quality, as Doyle steadied himself before unleashing a rocket which Pears could only tip further into the top corner.
Play should have stopped before winner – Tomasson
Speaking after the match, Blackburn boss Tomasson said play should have been stopped before Doyle’s winner as Morton was down with an eye injury.
“The head injury for Morton, they say it was only a finger in the eye, but he would have been standing in that zone where the goal came from. Imagine if it was something really serious,” he said.
“I said to the referee, ‘Normally, you stop a game with a head injury’. I think he knows it. It’s OK.
“Of course it should have been stopped, that’s the rules, isn’t it? It’s a big moment, imagine if there is something really dangerous. You can’t run when you can’t see out of your eye.”
The former Denmark striker was otherwise full of admiration for his side’s efforts.
“I feel proud, but bitterly disappointed to lose the game,” he told BBC Radio Lancashire. “The boys deserve more but we’re growing as a team and getting more mature.”
- 19RobinsonBooked at 21minsSubstituted forSharpat 70′minutes
- 2BaldockSubstituted forBogleat 88′minutes
- 28McAteeSubstituted forBashamat 90+3′minutes
- 29I’m going
- 11Rankin-CostelloSubstituted forBrittainat 80′minutes
- 17CarterBooked at 62mins
- 6MortonSubstituted forDolanat 90+4′minutes
- 19HedgesSubstituted forWhartonat 80′minutes
- 8SmodicsSubstituted forGarrettat 90+3′minutes
- Tim Robinson
Match ends, Sheffield United 3, Blackburn Rovers 2.
Second Half ends, Sheffield United 3, Blackburn Rovers 2.
Corner, Blackburn Rovers. Conceded by Chris Basham.
Foul by Billy Sharp (Sheffield United).
Dominic Hyam (Blackburn Rovers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Jayden Bogle (Sheffield United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Iliman Ndiaye.
Max Lowe (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Callum Brittain (Blackburn Rovers).
Anel Ahmedhodzic (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sam Gallagher (Blackburn Rovers).
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Substitution, Blackburn Rovers. Tyrhys Dolan replaces Tyler Morton.
Substitution, Blackburn Rovers. Jake Garrett replaces Sammie Szmodics.
Substitution, Sheffield United. Chris Basham replaces James McAtee.
Delay in match because of an injury Tyler Morton (Blackburn Rovers).
Goal! Sheffield United 3, Blackburn Rovers 2. Tommy Doyle (Sheffield United) right footed shot from outside the box to the top right corner. Assisted by Sander Berge.
Substitution, Sheffield United. Jayden Bogle replaces George Baldock.
Offside, Sheffield United. James McAtee tries a through ball, but Billy Sharp is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Tommy Doyle (Sheffield United) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Sander Berge.
Offside, Sheffield United. Tommy Doyle tries a through ball, but George Baldock is caught offside.