It promised to be the shock of the round in the FA Cup as lowly League Two Cambridge United held Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United to a goal-less draw.
But former Hibs stopper Michael Nelson found his efforts upstaged by ex-Easter Road team-mate Ben Williams less than 24 hours later as Bradford City knocked English Premier League leaders out of the competition as they staged a stunning comeback from 2-0 down to win 4-2 at Stamford Bridge.
Tonight, however, Nelson will have another chance to make the headlines as he heads for Old Trafford for the first time in a 15-year career which sees him closing in on 600 first team appearances a few weeks short of his 35th birthday.
Cambridge are already guaranteed to be winners, the replay in Manchester set to hit the jackpot with the replay worth at least £1.7 million – £100,000 more than the club’s entire income last year.
While the financial rewards will secure Cambridge’s future, chairman Dave Doggett promising the Abbey Stadium toilets will be upgraded as a result, Nelson and his team-mates will have their eyes only on a fifth round tie away to either Preston North End or Sheffield United.
Fanciful such a thought may be, but Nelson insisted that crazy weekend sparked by Cambridge’s Friday night draw against the Red Devils – Middlesbrough also defeating their city neighbours Manchester City away – can only inspire Richard Money’s side.
Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he said: “The manager asked us before the first game what we thought was realistically possible and we said we thought we could at least get a replay.
“We didn’t set in to camp in and defend. We carried a bit of a threat in the first half and had a couple of chances from set pieces. It was a bit more backs-to-the wall in the second half, but we got the draw and hopefully we can go and enjoy tonight as much as the first game.
“We’re not just going to Old Trafford to enjoy the occasion. We hope to play as well as we did at home. I’ve never been there before, not even to watch a match, so it’s a first for me, something I could never have imagined happening when I was told I was surplus to requirements at Easter Road earlier in the season.
“There’s no pressure on us. No-one is expecting us to do anything, but ultimately we want to do ourselves justice. Just look at that crazy weekend and the results it threw up. It was a huge result for us, but then Bradford decided to go and top it by coming from behind to beat Chelsea.
“It was a fantastic result. You never know, but perhaps our game the night before gave other teams playing the next day a bit of inspiration. I texted Ben after their win in London, telling him it was a great result – I was really pleased for him – and he said he’d seen our game and was now hoping we can get into the next round.
“For that to happen we need things to click into place. Everything has to go well. They have a very talented squad of players but why not, we’re certainly not just going there to make up the numbers, not ready to just let the game pass us by.”
The Us will be backed by more than 6600 of their fans, many of them travelling on a fleet of 34 coaches specially hired by the club, those supporters hoping they’ll see the same spirited performance which saw Cambridge fight back from 3-0 down against Luton at the weekend to only just fail to snatch a draw at Kenilworth Road at the weekend.
And while United’s side will, again, include the likes of David de Gea, Michael Carrick, Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, Nelson insisted he and his team-mates won’t have stars in their eyes and certainly not ex-Old Trafford player Luke Chadwick, who lifted a Premiership winners’ medal under Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2001.
A Scottish League Cup winner with Kilmarnock as they shocked Celtic three years ago, the player nicknamed “Admiral” said: “You don’t play the name, just the player you are up against. Just the same as the other week, we’ll try to identify their strengths and weaknesses, although they have a lot less weaknesses than the teams we’d normally come up against.
“But you look to try to see where they like to play and try to keep them away from the areas in which they are strong. It seemed to work quite well in the first half last time round so hopefully we can do it again.”
As he gazes around the “Theatre of Dreams,” Nelson will no doubt cast his mind back to the day he faced non-League Paulton Rovers –based in a small village in the Mendip Hills – during his days with Norwich, a game his side strolled 7-0 with four of those goals coming from new Scotland striker Chris Martin.
He said: “That’s the beauty of the FA Cup. You can go from one extreme to the other like that day at Paulton, where it was little more than a park pitch full of their fans and with as many Norwich supporters as possible squeezed in.
“It really is an adventure where you can play and the teams you can play against. If you are lucky enough to get an away tie against a big club as we have, then regardless of the result the revenue created can put Cambridge in a strong position financially”
Such was the state of the Cambridge coffers Money warned his players not to go swapping jerseys at the end of the game as they’d be expected to pay for them but, Nelson revealed, he and his team-mates managed to each get their hands on a United strip.
He said: “Their kitman was good enough to come into our changing room and handed each of the boys a jersey, although I don’t think any of them will come looking for one of our shirts tonight.”
Nelson admitted, though, that he could never have envisaged a night such as this when told by Alan Stubbs he’d have limited opportunities as Easter Road as the new Hibs head coach began to take the Capital club in a new direction.
He said: “When I was leaving Hibs I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was told I could go if something came up and luckily enough Cambridge came in, we managed to get a deal done and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, the style of football we are playing while Cambridge is a lovely place to live, even if I’m away from the family.
“I speak to a few of the boys who are still at Hibs quite regularly and a lot of people I played with earlier in my career and they’ve all been in touch wishing us all the best. I think everybody across the football world likes to see the underdog get a result.
“Hopefully we’ll do that tonight.”