Shaun Miller is smiling again after heading the winner against Fulham
IT was the last-gasp goal that broke Fulham hearts and sent Sheffield United into the FA Cup fifth round. But for the man who scored, it was so much more.
Shaun Miller ruptured his knee ligaments on Boxing Day 2012 and spent the next 10 months watching impotently as the Blades slumped from League One title contenders to crisis-torn relegation battlers.
And even though he returned in October, the 26-year-old has struggled for his old form, failing to score in 13 appearances.
But on Tuesday night, just 14 minutes after coming on as a sub, Miller nodded the 120thminute winner that gave the Blades a 1-0 win at Craven Cottage, his first goal since injury.
And if that, along with United’s progression, wasn’t reason enough to celebrate ,there was also another special milestone for Miller.
“It’s the first goal since my little lad, Zach, was born a couple of weeks ago, so that was for him,” said Miller, who is engaged to partner Sarah.
“I’ve been desperate to get a goal for him in the last few games, so it was nice to finally do it. Coming in the last minute of a big FA Cup tie, and being my first since the injury as well – it couldn’t have been more perfect really.”
Miller – who scored 43 goals in 179 games for Crewe – joined United in the summer of 2012, just five months before injury struck.
“The timing was absolutely gutting,” he admits. “I’d just got into the team, played quite a few games on the bounce. I was scoring a few. And the team was top of the league at that point. To suddenly be wiped out at that time was devastating.
“It’s one of the worst injuries you can get, and it’s hard to believe you can be out for so long from doing something so totally innocuous.
“In my case, it wasn’t a challenge or a block – it was just a slightly awkward landing. I couldn’t believe it but you just have to accept it and move on.
“All the rehab is tough, but the first time you step back on a pitch is an amazing feeling. When you realise how easily it can be taken away, you really do appreciate just being able to kick a ball.”
And while the injury was relatively quick to heal, Miller says coming back required strength not just in his knee muscles but also in the recesses of his brain.
“All through the rehabilitation when you’re getting into running, then into ball work and finally into game work, there are psychological barriers.
“You have reserve games first, but you’re still very wary.And still to this day, there are certain actions where something in the back of your mind is niggling away.
“But the more you play, the more confidence you have in the knee. Once you overcome that and things start coming naturally again, you stop thinking. After the first few weeks playing, you’re usually OK, but it means I’ve been not at my best for a year really.”
Injured under Danny Wilson, Miller didn’t even play for David Weir before the Scot was sacked with United rooted to the foot of League One.
And despite a temporary improvement under new gaffer Nigel Clough, the Blades went into yesterday’s home game with Shrewsbury just one place better off. So how come their Cup form – Aston Villa have also been slain – isn’t carrying into the league? “That’s the frustrating thing for all of us,” says Miller. “If you ask anyone, I’m sure they’ll all say they’d rather have had 12 points than four wins in the FA Cup.
“In the Cup we’ve been tremendous defensively and great at keeping our shape. What we have to do is take that resoluteness into league games.
“It’s nice to have a cup run, but there’s not much point if you aren’t backing it up in the league. That has to be the focus now.” Until Nottingham Forest pitch up at Bramall Lane in round five, of course. Surely the Championship side represent a decent shot at a first quarter-final in 10 years?
“We’ve been up against the Premier League in each of the last two games and come out on top so it wouldn’t have mattered who we played,” says Miller.
“We’d have gone into the game thinking: ‘We’ve got a chance’. We know we’ve got the talent to beat them, and to stay up. It’s down to us to prove it.”
Stephen Warnock celebrates his winner in Leeds’ 2-1 victory at Yeovil – Page 12
BLADE STUNNER: Sheffield United’s Shaun Miller, left, celebrates after the 120th minute goal that knocked Fulham out of the FA Cup
BLADES BOSSES: From left, Danny Wilson, David Weir and Nigel Clough