Ollie Norwood’s first-half penalty helped 10-man Sheffield United beat Brentford in a battling display at the Lane.
Gary Madine’s straight red for a late lunge came 10 minutes after Norwood put the hosts in front from the spot.
The Blades then survived a Brentford onslaught as the men in red and white shirts worked tirelessly before David McGoldrick eased the pressure late on with his 12th of the season.
It continues the Blades’ unbeaten run at home and means they’ve gone without conceding a league goal at home for over 650 minutes. They’ve notched seven successive clean-sheets, an incredible feat for any side.
And it was a valiant, bruising and combative display against a stubborn Brentford side who dominated possession throughout the second-half but struggled to fashion any clear-cut chances.
The win took the Blades to third in the table, two points behind leaders Leeds. United travel to Elland Road in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
Chris Wilder has made it clear that as the Blades continue to push for automatic promotion, plotting his way through the remaining games becomes an ever more vital task.
The whole squad has had some part to play at some stage in this remarkable season and it was the case tonight as, after netting in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Rotherham, Mark Duffy was consigned to the bench as Kieran Dowell came in his place. Madine was the other change as McGoldrick made way, leaving Billy Sharp on the bench for the second successive match. Wilder perhaps had one eye on Saturday’s huge crunch tie away at Leeds while maximising his chance of three points at the Lane tonight. Healthy competition has given Wilder a welcome selection headache on a weekly basis. Everyone pulled their weight in this victory.
Brentford, meanwhile, have had a funny old season. Dean Smith’s departure to boyhood club Aston Villa in October caused the Bees to wobble, but since the turn of the year they’ve began to blossom, winning seven out of their last nine before tonight under Thomas Frank.
They’ve turned into a bit of a selling club, recouping millions after developing players following an impressive recruitment drive that searches Europe and the globe for the best talent. One of those who has gone on to flourish is United’s John Egan, a centre-back who has made himself undroppable since his record-breaking move in the summer.
That’s no disrespect to Brentford as a club, though. Neal Maupay, who has hit 20 goals so far this season, stuck around despite reported interest from Middlesbrough and Aston Villa in January. He believes in the long-term project and, it’s clear from the players at their disposal, that lying mid-table isn’t good enough for a club of their size. They want to go higher but realise that within their squad there are salable assets that, in a football world dominated by finance, are not to be overlooked and ignored.
United began brighter, and a long-range effort from John Fleck – celebrating his Scotland call-up earlier in the day – whistled narrowly wide early on, but the first time a keeper was called into action was when Maupay connected with Yoann Barbet’s low-cross. The former Nice striker lunged before seeing his effort deflected away via Dean Henderson’s boot. A fine reaction stop from point-blank range.
The United keeper – on his 22nd birthday – then batted away a fierce free-kick from Said Benrahma as the Bees asserted some dominance on the home side.
For all that, however, a clumsy foul from Barbet on George Baldock gave the officials no other choice but to point to the spot.
Cue Norwood, then, who sent Daniels the wrong way from the spot for his third of the season.
The evening got a little more uncomfortable for the Blades as Madine was shown a straight red just after the half hour mark for a late, lunging challenge on Ezri Konsa. It was studs-up and reckless – he’d put in a similar tackle on the same player minutes before – and the referee didn’t hang about to brandish the card.
It took the stuffing out of the Blades for the remainder of the half, and at the interval United brought on McGoldrick for Scott Hogan. Dowell was also removed with Martin Cranie coming on in his place as Chris Basham, who was on a booking, moved up into midfield.
It gave the Blades a little more assurance in the middle of the park, but Maupay was on a mission for the Bees and watched on as his goalbound effort was clawed away by an outstretched Henderson.
The keeper was rooted to the spot though as Kamohelo Mokotjo’s curled effort cracked the woodwork after the midfielder found himself free in the box.
United were pounded with attack after attack and, despite it looking more like when Brentford would score rather than if, the Blades rearguard threw their bodies on the line time and time again as the Bees failed to make possession count.
It may go down as one of the most important and hard-worked win of United’s season, and McGoldrick made sure of the points with six minutes to spare, heading in from a corner to extend United’s lead as Bramall Lane erupted.
Saturday’s match away at the table-toppers has just got that bit more interesting.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock (Sharp, 60’), Norwood (C), Fleck, Stevens; Dowell (Cranie, 46’); Madine, Hogan (McGoldrick, 46’). Subs not used: Coutts, Stearman, Duffy, Moore.
Brentford: Daniels; Konsa (Canos, 62’), Jeanvier, Barnet, Dalsgaard (Forss, 90′); Mokotjo, Sawyers, Odubajo (Marcondes, 62’), Watkins; Maupay, Benrahma. Subs not used: McEachran, Gunnarsson, Da Silva, Sorensen.
Referee: Tony Harrington
Bookings: Sheffield United: Basham (20’)
Sent off: Sheffield United: Gary Madine (36’, straight red),
Scorers: Sheffield United: Norwood (26’, pen), McGoldrick (84’)
HT score: 1-0
FT score: 2-0
Man of the Match: Jack O’Connell (Sheffield United)