Sheffield United climbed into the automatic promotion places as David McGoldrick’s first-half header secured a 1-0 win over QPR.
The Blades now sit just four points off leaders Leeds after making it five matches unbeaten, and McGoldrick’s 10th goal of the season helped United move up to second.
QPR, who entered the match having knocked Leeds out of the FA Cup last week, struggled to carve out many chances for themselves with the Blades deserving of all three points.
United’s Chris Basham returned from suspension for a place in the starting line-up with new boys Kieran Dowell, who played in the 1-0 FA Cup defeat to non-league Barnet last week, and Gary Madine on the bench.
It was United, who went into this game on a run of four league games without defeat, who started on the front foot.
George Baldock’s raking diagonal ball fell straight to the feet of Sharp inside the box within the first five minutes. On the skipper’s recent form he was not in an unreasonable shooting position, but the striker opted to unselfishly set-up McGoldrick only for the front man to side-foot wide.
QPR’s resurgence of late has arguably gone under the radar. Should Steve McClaren’s side, who got off to a shaky start in the early stages of the campaign, put a couple of more wins together then there is no reason why they cannot mount a serious play-off challenge after entering this game on a run of six without defeat
They showed glimpses of their quality at the Lane, Ebere Eze’s change of pace down the middle proved particularly tough to defend against, yet they rarely got behind a stern back-line, with Dean Henderson in the United goal going untested for large spells.
The R’s could not stop United from going in front, however, as McGoldrick headed in his 10th goal of the season after finishing the move he initiated eight minutes before the break.
It was what Wilder’s men needed after a patchy start to the game, and Rangers’ attempts to level were half-hearted when Eze tried his luck from range, but his dipping shot was wide and skipped into the gloves of Henderson as the Blades’ 1-0 lead remained intact at the interval.
It was not until after the hour mark that United fashioned a chance that they really should have taken to wrap up the win. Sharp rolled the ball behind him to the on-running Mark Duffy who opted to cut inside instead of having a pop himself when put clean through on goal.
The chance petered out and it was to be the playmaker’s last involvement, with Wilder bringing on Everton loanee Dowell for his first league game in a red and white shirt.
In what little play QPR could muster in the second-half, dangerman Luke Freeman should have tested Henderson more when he created a bit of space before firing tamely at the United shot stopper from distance.
Freeman’s next effort went closer to nestling into the net as it dipped and swerved before dropping wide of the upright with Henderson rooted to the spot.
But the Blades managed to see the game out and sent a message to the rest of the league: they’re not going away just yet.
Sheffield United: Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; Duffy (Dowell, 68’); McGoldrick (Stearman, 90’), Sharp (C) (Clarke, 83’). Subs not used: Coutts, Johnson, Madine, Moore (GK).
QPR: Lumley, Furlong, Leistner (C), Lynch, Bidwell, Wszolek (Osayi-Samuel, 63’), Cousins (Smith, 74’), Scowen (Chair, 83’), Freeman, Eze, Well. Subs not used: Hall, Manning, Oteh, Ingram (GK).
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Bookings: Sheffield United: Fleck (56’, cynical foul), Dowell (78’, cynical foul)
QPR: Cousins (12’, foul)
Scorers: Sheffield United: David McGoldrick (37’)
Man of the Match: David McGoldrick (Sheffield United)