A late header from Patrick Bamford proved to be the difference in a tense Yorkshire derby at Bramall Lane, where both sides had their goalkeepers to thank for keeping the score down.
In the first Premier League meeting between the clubs for 26 years, Leeds started off the better side, with Sheffield United content to sit back in a 5-3-2 formation and absorb pressure. Luke Ayling stung keeper Aaron Ramsdale’s hands with a shot in the 4th minute, but his effort was parried away. From the resulting counter-attack, John Lundstram was played in behind the Leeds defence, but could only drag a left-footed effort wide.
Bielsa’s men had the upper hand in the early stages, with the quality of passing from recent England debutant Kalvin Phillips stretching the Blades. The Whites’ dominance meant that for much of the game, they succeeded in pinning Sheffield’s wing-backs, depriving the Blades’
attackers of the overlapping wide support Wilder’s men have become known for.
At the other end, Jack Harrison was Leeds’ main threat, continually offering strong runs and crossing from the left wing. His team’s best chance of the first half came when striker Bamford failed to keep his header down following an incisive ball from the Manchester City loanee.
From midway through the first-half, the game settled into a pattern of the teams battling for the
ball in midfield, then failing to have the quality to capitalise in the final third. Both sides
had their keepers to thank for keeping the game goalless at the interval.
Ilan Meslier made two superb reflex saves in the first half to deny Sheffield United. The first was the result of Osborn’s pullback, which
was dummied by McGoldrick, allowing Lundstram a shot at goal.
The young Frenchman brilliantly predicted the sidefoot from ten yards, implausibly pushing the ball wide. Minutes later Baldock received the ball on the edge of the box – having spun past his man, with only the keeper to beat, Meslier stuck out a strong left hand to divert the right back’s thundering effort away from the top corner.
Following half-time, the midfield became a cagey battleground for what was more like a chess match between Bielsa and Wilder. Seeking to avoid a stalemate, the Blades manager rolled the dice with fifteen minutes to go, bringing on talisman Billy Sharp and fellow striker Oli McBurnie to replace the toothless David McGoldrick and Oliver Burke. His Argentinian adversary introduced landmark signing Rodrigo, and youngster Ian Poveda, who instantly provided an injection of pace to Leeds’ attack.
With ten minutes to go, a corner won by McBurnie was launched into a packed Leeds box, but Jack Robinson left Bladesmen disappointed when he diverted an instinctive volley wide from close-range.
In the end however, it was the Harrison-Bamford connection that made the difference. With both sides tiring and taking a more ‘route one’ approach at the death, Harrison received the ball on the left, beat his man and floated yet another cross into the danger area.
This time, Bamford obliged, rising high above Robinson to plant his header into the ground and back across Blades stopper Ramsdale to secure victory.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale; Basham, Ampadu, Robinson; Baldock, Lundstram (Norwood 64’), Berge,
Osborn, Stevens; Burke (Sharp 74’), McGoldrick (C) (McBurnie 74’). Subs not used: Foderingham,
Jagielka, Lowe, Fleck
Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper; Phillips; Costa (Poveda 66’), Klich, Dallas, Harrison;
Roberts (Rodrigo 45’ (Alioski 90+1’) ) Bamford. Subs not used: Caprile, Struijk, Davis, Shackleton
Referee: Paul Tierney