Goals from Scott Hogan and Jack O’Connell secured a priceless 2-0 win for Sheffield United against Ipswich Town at Bramall Lane, all but confirming their promotion to the Premier League.
Starting the day second in the table, three points ahead of Leeds United with two games to play, United knew a win would all but secure their return to the Premier League.
The formbook favoured the Blades, with Ipswich winning only two of the sides’ 14 previous meetings and with the visitors already relegated with nothing to play for, a feeling of expectation and excitement hung in the air at a sold-out Bramall Lane.
Reflecting their lofty position in the table, the opening stages saw United dominate possession, with George Baldock producing a couple of dangerous crosses as they pushed for an early goal.
The first real opening of the game fell to January arrival Scott Hogan but the striker could only steer his effort wide of the far post after a John Fleck cut-back.
But Ipswich were not deterred by the early Blades dominance. After Will Keane was forced off with injury and replaced by Trevoh Chalobah, the visitors broke out somewhat and managed a few half chances of their own.
Flynn Downes produced Ipswich’s first effort of the game, dragging his shot wide, before Teddy Bishop slalomed his way past a few challenges only to see his low effort blocked.
But in the 24th minute, a moment of real quality from the home side broke the deadlock.
After powering his way to the by-line, Jack O’Connell whipped in a dangerous low ball from the left. Unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, Hogan opened up his body and used the pace of the cross to guide the ball into the far corner, leaving Ipswich goalkeeper Dean Gerken with no chance.
Another piece of magic, this time from McGoldrick nearly created a quickfire second. The Irishman’s beautiful diagonal through ball found a marauding George Baldock, but Gerken was alert and quick off his line to snuff out the danger, and the score remained 1-0 until halftime.
With the Kop roaring them on, United kept pushing and saw a series of chances fall their way.
Minutes after the restart United came within inches of doubling their advantage, but Ollie Norwood could only stand and watch as his in-swinging free kick crashed off the far post.
A whipped Norwood cross from the right found McGoldrick at the back post, but his header found the side-netting, not the back of the net, as first thought by the deceived home fans.
The 63rd minute saw Bramall Lane rise to its feet to welcome top-scorer Billy Sharp, returning from a hamstring injury to replace goal scorer Scott Hogan. He immediately looked to make an impact, racing through one on one with the last defender, but he couldn’t quite make the ball stick and the chance was gone.
With twenty minutes to go O’Connell saw his header fly over, but a minute later he made sure he found the target.
Rising to meet Fleck’s out-swinging corner, the centre back sent a towering header crashing in off the bar, putting United 2-0 up and sending the Kop into delirium.
Credit to Ipswich, they didn’t lie down, and with minutes remaining Alan Judge forced Henderson into a smart stop, tipping his effort over the bar.
But in the end, quality told, and United settled for two and played out the remainder of the contest without incident.
With Leeds hosting Aston Villa on Sunday, United’s promotion to the Premier League was not mathematically confirmed, but given that United have a far superior goal difference than their Yorkshire rivals, it can almost be concluded that promotion is a fact.
With the players celebrating in front of a jubilant Kop, there was no mistaking the feeling amongst the Bramall Lane faithful: The Blades are going up.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Baldock, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham; Egan, Norwood (C), Duffy (Lundstram, 85’); McGoldrick (Madine, 77’), Hogan (Sharp, 63’). Subs not used: Dowell, Stearman, Moore, Cranie.
Ipswich Town: Gerken; Bree, Chambers, Nsiala, Kenlock; Skuse, Bishop, Downes, Judje; Jackson (Dozzell, 68’), Keane (Chalobah, 9’). Subs not used: Bialkowski, Elder, Emmanuel, El Mizouni, Ndaba.
Referee: Tim Robinson
Bookings: Sheffield United: N/A
Ipswich Town: N/A
Scorers: Sheffield United: Hogan (24’), O’Connell (77’),
Ipswich Town: N/A
Man of the Match: Jack O’Connell