Aden Flint’s 90th minute strike leaves Sheffield United without a win in four as Bristol City move three points behind second-placed Cardiff City ahead of their game on Monday thanks to a 2-1 victory at Bramall Lane.
Jamie Paterson opened the scoring with a thunderous strike that came two minutes before the interval after the Blades saw three efforts hit the woodwork, but Leon Clarke continued his purple patch in front of goal three minutes after the re-start, arrowing low into the far corner.
The Blades went close again – Mark Duffy was denied by the post for a second time – but were dealt a blow when a crunching, two-footed challenge from John Fleck yielded a straight red on the hour.
Just as the Blades thought they had done enough to record a point, Flint pounced on a rigid back-line to send a side-foot finish into the far corner.
It extended Bristol City’s away record to ten unbeaten and it left Chris Wilder seething at full-time.
He said: “It’s a cruel game at times. I don’t think we deserved to lose.
“I was delighted from the reaction [to the Millwall defeat].
“We were positive with our subs. We will keep going and doing the right things from how we go about it.”
On Fleck’s red card, Wilder commented: “The game’s gone if you can’t tackle like that. His left leg has pulled out of it. I don’t think that deserves a red card.”
The recent run of results for the Blades may have been accepted at the start of the season as a long list of Championship fixtures loomed.
But wins over the likes of Wolves, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds rocketed the beliefs of supporters and altered the end of season targets beyond recognition.
The last couple of weeks, then, have been a wake-up call. The 3-1 drubbing away to Millwall and scoring four at home to Fulham yet still having to swallow a defeat put a group of bright players under the microscope.
Bristol City wouldn’t necessarily be top of punters’ lists of top sides in the division, yet their passing style and bravery early on – fearless in playing along the back and interchanging up front – showed why this game saw a 4th-versus-3rd match-up.
Despite a cautious start with both sides paying their respects, it was United’s Duffy who made the first strike of note, stinging the gloves of Frank Fielding who got behind the ball to parry away from danger.
When Enda Stevens was fouled on the edge of the box, Duffy duly stepped up to go closer still, curling a strike towards the back-post that cracked the woodwork as the ground fell silent in anticipation.
It gave United a source of belief, however, with the Blades enjoying a little more possession but still struggling to dominate the midfield, starving Clarke and Billy Sharp of chances to hold up play.
The bar then twice denied Sharp, the first coming after a link-up with Clarke before a powerful header was tipped onto the bar by Fielding’s outstretched arm from a Fleck corner.
For all that, though, it was Paterson who fired the Robins into the lead, punishing the Blades for their lack of profligacy two minutes before the break.
It was a well-taken strike for the frontman’s fifth of the season, arrowing past Simon Moore – brought into the starting line-up in place of Jamal Blackman – from 25-yards as the former Nottingham Forest man jinked past O’Connell before breaking the deadlock.
A damning blow for Wilder’s men on the stroke of half-time, but they came out of the blocks in tremendous fashion, taking just three minutes to draw level.
Clarke, fresh off the back of being named the Championship Player of the Month for November, picked out the far corner from a tight angle for his 10th goal in six games.
United sensed blood and were denied by the woodwork for the fourth time of the match as Duffy advanced into the area before curling an effort that hit the foot of the post.
Sharp picked up the loose ball but his effort on goal was blocked by Baker’s face.
Just as United were in the ascendancy they were dealt a hammer blow as Fleck was shown a straight red for a two-footed cruncher on Korey Smith as the Robins threatened in the Blades’ defensive third.
It forced the winger to be replaced by ex-West Ham midfielder Matty Taylor as United were forced to adjust their approach with Chris Basham filling the void in the central area.
A fine save from Moore kept a deflected effort from Marlon Pack at bay as the hosts found themselves pegged in, with Stearman crucially reacting quickest to block Taylor’s follow-up.
Clayton Donaldson, Samir Carruthers and young David Brooks were all thrown in late on in an attempt to snatch all three points, but the visitors punished Wilder’s side just as the board for added time was raised.
The Blades defence appeared to stand still as Flint’s well-taken side-foot finish, coming after a moment of pinball, nestled into the far corner to break the hearts of the Bramall Lane faithful and steal all three points.
With away trips against Preston and Aston Villa, plus a Boxing Day encounter coming up against Chris Coleman’s Sunderland, the Blades will be needing points on the board sooner rather than later if they are to maintain their place in the play-offs.
But Bristol City head coach, Lee Johnson, cut a jubilant figure at full-time as his side continued their impressive form on the road with a goal deserving of the three points, although he recognised Sheffield United were by far the better team in moments of the match.
He said: “Massive win. I thought Sheffield United were outstanding.
“I had to change the shape three times and that was due to Sheffield United’s relentlessness.
“Maybe last year we would’ve caved. We are here on merit.”
Sheffield United: Moore; Basham (Carruthers, 86’), Stearman, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstram, Duffy (Brooks, 76’), Fleck, Stevens; Sharp (C) (Donaldson, 80’), Clarke. Subs not used: Blackman, Wright, Carter-Vickers, Lafferty.
Bristol City: Fielding; Wright (C), Flint, Baker, Bryan; Eliasson (Djuric, 46’), Brownhill, Pack (Leko. 76’), Smith (Taylor, 62’); Paterson, Reid. Subs not used: Steele, Woodrow, Magnusson, Vyner.
Referee: David Coote
Scorers: Sheffield United: Clarke (48’)
Bristol City: Paterson (43’), Flint (90+1’)
Bookings: Sheffield United: Stevens (44’, foul)
Bristol City: Djuric (56’, foul), Brownhill (90’, foul)
Sending offs: Sheffield United: Fleck (59’, serious foul play)
Bristol City: None
HT Score: 0-1
FT Score: 1-2
Man of the Match: Mark Duffy (Sheffield United)