John Brayford celebrates his goal in the Blades' 2-0 win in the Quarter-Final against Charlton in 2014. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

It has been ten seasons since a League One Sheffield United team went on a rampant journey all the way to the FA Cup semi-final, a run inspired by the most unlikely of galvanising cult heroes on loan from Cardiff City.

The first half of the 2013/14 season was a miserable one for the South Yorkshire side; they found themselves languishing in and around the bottom four as a result of a terrible start.

Nigel Clough took the reins after David Weir lost his job after winning just 1 of his 10 league games in charge.

John Brayford joined the Blades in January 2014, reuniting with then manager Nigel Clough for the third time in his career having played under him at Burton Albion and Derby County.

Whilst Clough steadied the ship of a team all at sea, United did still find themselves second from bottom in the table by the start of February.

However, a last gasp extra time winner at Fulham in a FA Cup 4th round replay ignited a memorable second half of the season.

The South Yorkshire club saw off Nottingham Forest in the 5th round before a Quarter-Final clash at home with Championship Charlton Athletic in what proved to be a fabulous day for Brayford and his teammates.

 

A 2-0 win, with the now Burton Albion skipper’s goal sealing the deal, set up a Yorkshire derby Semi-Final with Premier League side Hull City at the national stadium.

Sheffield United’s run to the Semi-Final:

Round 1: Colchester 2-3 Sheffield United

Round 2: Cambridge United 0-2 Sheffield United

Round 3: Aston Villa 1-2 Sheffield United

Round 4: Fulham 0-1 Sheffield United (AET)

Last 16: Sheffield United 3-1 Nottingham Forest

Quater-Final: Sheffield United 2-0 Charlton Athletic

“We genuinely thought we’d win, and that’s no exaggeration. I think they were a Premier League team at the time though, but I think it was the best draw we could have had to get to the FA Cup Final,” he says.

Sheffield United’s East Yorkshire counterparts came out on top at Wembley Stadium that day. Despite the League One team leading 2-1 at half-time, and pulling a late goal back to take the game to the wire, Hull ran out 5-3 winners to reach their first ever FA Cup final and end an incredible journey that started at the first round against Colchester United.

“It’s literally the only game I’ve never watched back.

“I don’t even think it was bitter sweet, it was just disappointment more than anything,” he says.

People say that they pay their hard earned money, but they do. they live for their football.
John Brayford, burton albion captain

The then 27-year-old returned to Cardiff City at the close of the season, but returned to South Yorkshire the following January for an undisclosed fee- believed to be around £1.5 million.

His Sheffield United career came to an end in 2017 when he returned to Staffordshire for his third stint at Burton Albion.

The 2023/24 FA Cup returns this weekend with 4th round ties taking place between Thursday 25 January and Monday 29 January.