David McGoldrick fired Sheffield United to the top of the Championship table as the Blades make it four straight wins with a 1-0 victory over Hull City.
His spot-kick midway through the second-half gave United a deserving win in what was a frustrating match at Bramall Lane, and one that could’ve gone either way.
With the ill-timed international break looming, however, it was the perfect way to seal off what’s been a memorable couple of weeks for the Blades.
The result for Hull, meanwhile, means they currently prop up the standings after failing to notch a win in five matches.
Boss Chris Wilder backed up his side’s recent form by keeping faith in the team that’s served him so well in recent weeks, leaving Billy Sharp to lead the line again after his stellar form of late that saw him net four goals in four matches before today.
While Hull started quick out of the blocks – definitely not something synonymous with a team who’ve won just two league games all season – it was the Blades who had the best chance within the first five minutes.
David McGoldrick, who had gifted the ball away in midfield just a minute earlier, drilled in a cross that screamed for a touch inside the six-yard box. It took a crucial deflection before reaching Enda Stevens, though, with the Republic of Ireland international struggling to adjust his feet quick-enough to test David Marshall.
McGoldrick then had a chance of his own following a neat one-two between Mark Duffy and Sharp, but the striker leant back and curled his effort over the bar from 12-yards.
It was a warning sign for Hull as the Tigers were penned back, although they looked a little livelier up top when Frazier Campbell was forced off with a groin injury after half hour.
The introduction of Nouha Dicko in his place almost made an instant impact, with the Frenchman instigating an attack right from the off, but it was one that Stevens later cut-out before Dean Henderson was tested.
A moment of magic is what the game looked in need of, and when Duffy back-heeled into the path of Stevens it looked like the Blades may have forced their way through. The wing-back fired a shot towards the near post from inside the box but could only sting the gloves of Marshall as the sides went into the break level.
United began the second-half a little lethargic and the visitors had a goal disallowed after Dicko was caught offside; a warning sign that it was going to be another tough half.
In the scrappy fifteen minutes that followed neither side had a clear-cut chance to score, although Sharp could’ve perhaps embellished his stellar record when he volleyed over Kieron Freeman’s headed knockback.
It was from a tight angle and the acrobatic effort sailed over, but it showed promise as United tried to assert some dominance.
It resulted in Wilder turning to Paul Coutts to make an impact, with the Blades midfielder making his first appearance at Bramall Lane since his leg break at the start of last season.
It was a special moment as he entered the pitch, replacing Duffy, to a standing ovation.
But there was no time for sentiment. He came on because he had a job to do.
Before he could have much of an influence, Henderson was called into action after skipper Markus Henriksen peeled away from his man at the far post. The midfielder watched on as Henderson, recently called-up to the England U21 squad, plucked his headed effort out of the air when he looked destined to open the scoring.
And then Hull were made to pay.
As a cross was hooked in O’Connell was hauled to the ground, leaving McGoldrick to send Marshall the wrong way from the penalty that followed.
Not a bad way to mark your 100th career goal.
The Blades were forced to play under the cosh for the 20-minutes that followed, but that was inevitable and Wilder would’ve made that clear to his players.
But the Blades can be proud as they head into the internationals top of the tree. A fine feat indeed and a testament, once again, to Wilder’s masterful approach.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Freeman, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; Duffy (Coutts, 66’); Sharp (C) (Johnson, 88’), McGoldrick (Clarke, 88’). Subs not used: Baldock, Stearman, Washington, Moore (GK).
Hull City: Marshall; Burke, Elphick, Lichaj, Kingsley; Kane, Henriksen (C), Irvine (Grosicki, 80’), Batty; Campbell (Dicko, 29’), Martin (Bowen, 71’). Subs not used: Stewart, Keane, McKenzie, Long (GK).
Referee: Peter Bankes
Bookings: Sheffield United: John Egan, David McGoldrick
Hull City: Tommy Elphick
Scorers: Sheffield United: David McGoldrick (70’, p)
Hull City: N/A
Man of the Match: Dean Henderson (Sheffield United)