BILLY SHARP’S 12th league goal of the season helped to extend Sheffield United’s unbeaten run to 13 league games against nine-man Shrewsbury Town to take them into the automatic promotion places.
Sharp opened the scoring after 8 minutes when he displayed fine composure to slot-home, before having a penalty-kick saved shortly after Town were reduced to ten-men.
Substitute Stefan Scougall made it 2-0 to the hosts – their 18th goal in six matches in all competitions – before Shrewsbury saw another straight red in first-half stoppage time after a dangerously high and late tackle from Abu Ogogo.
The second-half saw United dominate chances and possession but they were hit with a surprise late on when Louis Dodds netted his third of the season to pull-one back with just over 15 minutes remaining. The Blades were able to hold out for the three points and the 2-1 win, although boss Chris Wilder believed his side should have finished off the visitors by a more comfortable margin after enduring a frustrating second-half.
“We’re a little disappointed in the changing room that we haven’t extended our lead” he said.
“It’s a strange old game. Obviously they’ve had two sent-off and got it back to 2-1. The disappointing aspect for me is their goal, when the three of our boys are around there, one of them should take responsibility. We got into some great positions second-half, their goalkeeper has made some unbelievable saves, and we’re frustrated, but that’s all it is, a tiny frustration.
“The club haven’t had a rock solid home record for quite a long time. That’s six wins on the bounce for us, which is fantastic, it’s 13 games unbeaten, which is great, and we’re up to second.”
United named an unchanged starting eleven from the side that beat bottom side Chesterfield 4-1 away last Sunday, meaning that skipper Sharp, Matt Done and Mark Duffy led the line in a three-pronged attack.
The first chance came for the hosts on six minutes, when Kieron Freeman won the ball by the halfway line before offloading to Sharp down the wing. The frontman’s cross was brought down impressively by Duffy but his shot on the turn cannoned off the foot of his own man as Shrewsbury survived.
They didn’t wise up to United’s attacking prowess, however, and they were behind two minutes later when Sharp calmly slotted home into the bottom corner after latching on to a 40-yard cross-field ball by John Fleck.
The celebrations were cut short when Duffy was dealt an early injury blow on 10 minutes, with Scougall introduced as his replacement.
Shrewsbury, who entered this match on the back of three straight wins and clean-sheets, came close to an instant reply when AJ Leitch-Smith’s arrowed effort was parried by Simon Moore, with the keeper having to react quickest to pounce on the ball at the second time of asking.
United were then denied two penalties, first a clumsy trip and then a handball claim that Sharp prodded wide after the ball broke to him inside the box. Neither were given, and Bramall Lane became agitated.
Shrewsbury, who have turned a corner after Paul Hurst’s appointment from Grimsby last month, were restricted to few chances.
The home side had plenty to get excited about soon after when O’Brien brought down Daniel Lafferty from behind as he drove into the box, leaving the referee with no other option but to show the Town centre-back his marching orders. Sharp failed to capitalise from 12-yards, though, and saw his powerful penalty down the middle saved by Mark Halstead.
Substitute Scougall made up for Sharp’s miss mid-way through the half when he side-footed home Freeman’s header from the by-line, and the question of just how many United were capable of scoring seemed like a reasonable proposition at the time. The visitors looked bereft of ideas and unable to cope with the quick passing play of a Sheffield side that now sit second behind Scunthorpe.
A glorious chance for a third fell to the feet of Scougall but the ball dribbled towards the line, enabling Adam El-Abd to get a touch that keeper Halstead gratefully clutched.
Shrewsbury then lost their discipline in first-half stoppage time when Abu Ogogo was shown a straight red for a dangerous challenge on Paul Coutts. It was a potential leg-breaker, and Coutts failed to emerge from the tunnel for the second-half, making way for Jack O’Connell.
The second period, while still all United, had a slightly more sombre mood than the frenetic first. The job was done, and a chance for United to get their goal difference up as they look to start a surge towards the summit of the table. Tuesday night’s home tie against Bury, who succumbed to a concerning 5-1 defeat at AFC Wimbledon, started to edge into the home side’s thoughts.
Shrewsbury defended for their lives in the second-half, flinging bodies at efforts from Sharp and blocking teasing crosses from Ethan Ebanks-Landall, who was afforded too much space on the right, but the second-half was always going to be a case of damage limitation.
A chance to add gloss to the win was wasted when Sharp failed to turn in from close-range, and it looked as if the hosts could sneak one more in before the game was out.
There was another goal to come but it came in the form of a Shrewsbury consolation when Louis Dodds turned in Junior Brown’s cross from close-range 18 minutes from time to give the travelling faithful something to cheer, setting up a somewhat nervy final few minutes.
It was a spirited revival but one that was almost impossible after the two first-half red cards, and it gave United yet another win in front of a 20,195-strong crowd.
“I haven’t seen the penalty again,” said Wilder, “but for me he looks to just about smash it into the net so it’s a goal scoring opportunity, so that’s a sending off, and the second one, Coutts is lucky not to have broken his leg. You could say he hasn’t broken his leg, but he’s lucky. It’s a poor tackle, and that’s not my team’s indiscipline, it’s the oppositions.
“Fair play, they sat in, defended, and there were some unbelievable blocks from them.”
Sheffield United: Moore; Ebanks-Landell, Basham, Wright; Freeman (Chapman, 60’), Coutts (O’Connell, 46’), Fleck, Lafferty; Duffy (Scougall, 10’); Sharp (C), Done. Unused subs: Lavery, Ramsdale, Brown, Clarke.
Shrewsbury Town: Halstead, Grimmer, El-Abd ©, Lancashire, Brown; Deegan; Ogogo, O’Brien; Dodds; Toney (Black, 46’), Leitch-Smith (Ebanks-Blake, 46’). Unused subs: Leutwiler, Sadler, Smith, Sarcevic, Waring.
Referee: Darren Deadman
Bookings: Sheffield United: None
Shrewsbury Town: Gary Deegan (52’, foul)
Sendings off: Sheffield United: None
Shrewsbury Town: Jim O’Brien (20’, denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity), Abu Ogogo (45+4, dangerous play)
Goals: Sheffield United: Billy Sharp (8’), Stefan Scougall (24’)
Shrewsbury Town: Louis Dodds (78’)
HT Score: 2-0
FT Score: 2-1
Man of the Match: John Fleck