On a cold, wet, windy afternoon, Sheffield United looked to strengthen their grasp of European football next season but were held to a 1-1 draw at home against Brighton.
With Spurs having lost earlier today, the Blades had a perfect opportunity to make the fifth place their own and further their chances of European qualification.
Brighton, on the other hand, came into this match looking for a change of fortune, not having won a single game this year.
Neither side really produced any clear cut chances for their teams in the opening 20 minutes.
It wasn’t until 26 minutes into the game that the deadlock was broken. Enda Stevens received a cross from the right-hand side of the Brighton box. The defender took a touch and smashed it into Mathew Ryan’s top right corner.
However, the joy was short lived as just four minutes later, the travelling Gulls equalised. Aaron Mooy took a freekick about halfway into the Blades’ half. It found Adam Webster at the far post who headed it over to Neal Maupay, who put it in the back of Dean Henderson’s net.
Brighton would have the best opportunity to go ahead about five minutes later, as Webster started a counter attack following a Blades corner. He ended up losing the ball to George Baldock once he arrived in the Blades penalty box. Baldock tried to play it out from the back but he too lost the ball, only for it to find Ezequiel Schelotto who shot at goal but his shot was blocked.
As halftime approached it remained all square.
Five minutes into the second half, Mooy whipped in a corner and managed to find Duffy. The centre-back tried to volley a shot but took it with way too much power and skied it over the net.
On the hour mark the Blades came close to taking the lead for the second time in the game. John Fleck received the ball right outside the Gulls’ penalty box and the centre-midfielder took a hard, lowstruck shot but it was just wide of Ryan’s left post.
Both teams struggled to produce any dangerous chances in the next 15 minutes. This prompted Chris Wilder to take off skipper Billy Sharp and bring on David McGoldrick to try to find the goal to go ahead.
Five minutes later, Wilder made his final change as he took off Sander Berge and brought on John Lundstram, hoping perhaps that this would yield the same result as last time out against Bournemouth.
Seconds later, Oliver McBurnie found himself completely unmarked in the Brighton box after a low whipped cross. The Scotsman tried to shoot first time but got a bad touch on the ball and it rolled out for a goal kick.
Just 3 minutes from fulltime, the Blades came so near yet again. McBurnie headed the ball on goal but Ryan saved it, only for Baldock to attempt the same but Ryan saved it yet again. Osborn pounced on the following return and he as well tried to head it but it finally went out of play.
Moments later, Sheffield United tried an extravagant free kick routine, as rather than crossing it into the box, Fleck passed it down the line for a charging Lundstram who tried to cross it in, only for it to be blocked.
In the end, it finished all square at Bramall Lane. The Blades now remain on sixth, level on 40 points with Spurs. They’ll be travelling next week to Aston Villa, hoping to make amends for today’s draw and continue to push for European football.
Brighton manager Graham Potter said: “I have the utmost respect for Chris and the job he’s done here. Massive congratulations to reach 40 points.
“I think sometimes you have to credit the opposition. We couldn’t play and we have to analyse why that was.
[On Maupay’s performance] “It was an award for his overall performance and sacrifice for the team. His job is to do his best for the team. Neal Maupay has got the quality to score goals and he gets the reward from a selfless performance today.”
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder said: “Very sly tinge of disappointment. The players couldn’t give me anymore. I thought the drive was brilliant but it was disappointing to concede after going up.
“We found a way two weeks ago against Bournemouth to win a game but unfortunately we couldn’t find a way to win today.
“I really enjoyed the game, I really enjoyed watching my team play. Credit to the Brighton boys as well. People say they’re soft but I didn’t see any softness from them today.
“I said before this wasn’t going to be easy and I have a huge amount of respect for Graham and the way he plays. I think they should be delighted for that result in the end.
“Our reaction from their goal was great, we got straight back up and went again. It was a consistent performance and a good performance on the back of us being on holiday last week so delighted to come back to that on the back of our holiday.
“I’m absolutely delighted with what I’ve seen today. A draw doesn’t hurt me at all. I’m more proud of the way we played and our performance.
“Every ground is brilliant in the Premier League and we’re really enjoying the experience. To get to 40 points is great and we’re after more. We’ve got some fantastic games coming up. The club is in a good place and I have to make sure this continues. Performance, points tally, manner of how we’re going about it, and looking forward to the remaining games.
Wilder also shared an interesting encounter earlier on the day: “I finished a half hour run at a very slow pace and was asked by someone if I wanted to take part in a survey on my Premier League experience. I don’t think the person recognised me but I thought it was funny that they managed to stop the manager of Sheff United.”
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Stevens (46’ Osborn), Fleck, Norwood, Berge (81’ Lundstram), Baldock; McBurnie, Sharp (74’ McGoldrick). Subs not used: Verrips, Lundstram, Jagielka, Mousset, Retsos.
Brighton: Ryan; Webster, Dunk, Duffy; Burn, Propper, Bissouma, Schelotto (Trossard); Mooy, Murray (74’ Connolly), Maupay. Subs not used: Button, Gross, Jahanbakhsh, March, Bernardo.
Referee: Graham Scott
Bookings: Sheffield United:
Brighton: Bissouma (10’), Davy Propper (23’)
Scorers: Sheffield United: Stevens (26’)
Brighton: Maupay (30’)
HT: 1 – 1
FT: 1 – 1
Man of the Match: John Fleck