Sheffield United and Preston North End were two teams looking to secure their spot in the Championship play-offs at Bramall Lane, but the Blades narrowly missed out with a 1-0 defeat this afternoon.
With Sheffield United on 66 points and Preston on 67 points, the teams were even opponents and both had a lot to fight for.
Fifth-placed Middlesbrough and Derby County, in sixth, had 72 and 71 points respectively, meaning a win at Bramall Lane, and fortune in other rivals’ losses, could mean these two teams make the play offs.
Blades were an impressive side at the beginning of this season, winning 12 of their opening 17 games, and are unbeaten in their seven previous games at Bramall Lane.
In the final match the Blades will face Bristol City, another play-off hopeful, so a victory over Preston would be very helpful for Premier League plans.
The Lilywhites have been suffering since Jordan Hugill was sold to West Ham in January for £10 million, but nonetheless have beaten the Blades in their meeting in December 2017 by 1– 0 at Deepdale and remain in a higher position to United.
Bramall Lane was set to be a place of tense atmosphere and of great football.
After a United’s fans’ rendition of John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’, United got the game got underway.
Preston were in their untraditional green away colours, and their defence was strong in these opening minutes and throughout. They were organised appropriately to defend a strong attacking side from United and the lyric ‘it’s not that
easy being green’ was not the case for Preston.
After 20 minutes, much of the match was filled with opportunities to goal score but no goals came. Derby were 1-0 up to Aston Villa after 19 minutes, meaning both teams needed to get on the scoreboard to keep play-off dreams alive.
Alex Neil and Chris Wilder’s movements out of their technical areas mirrored the frustrations of the crowd hoping for their teams to score, and three North End players begin to warm up at the side of the pitch, foreshadowing the fresh legs who would be playing the second half.
The final whistle for the first-half blew at 0-0.
The Blades and the Whites had multiple opportunities but neither to conqueror the other’s defence, showing the skill and even playing field of the match.
The majority of the second-half action took place at the Kop stand with United fans shouting ‘shoot’ and ‘hit it’, evidence of their frustrations.
Despite this, Harrop advanced up the pitch and had his effort on goal deflected, but Maguire picked up the ball and arrowed in an effort three minutes shy of the hour mark.
The Preston fans were delighted and as the Blades’ fans begin to sit down and quieten, the pressure from United’s attack remained.
A second goal for Preston around ten minutes later was marked offside so did not count.
Tensions then began to run high on the pitch and Linington tried to calm the emotions, talking to Sharp and Cunningham before a United free kick.
Despite more goal scoring chances for the Blades, the Preston defence held strong and shots were deflected.
Overall, United were the stronger attacking side and had many opportunities, yet the Blades were unable to convert these into goals.
An unfortunate loss ends the Blades’ dominance at Bramall Lane, but nevertheless United showed a strong side and skilful play right up to the final match minute.
27 – Jamal Blackman, 3 – Enda Stevens, 4 – John Fleck, 5 – Jack O’Connell, 6 – Chris
Basham, 9 – Leon Clarke, 10 – Billy Sharp ©, 18 – Kieron Freeman, 19 – Richard Stearman,
20 – Lee Evans, 21 – Mark Duffy
Substitutes: 36 – David Brooks on, 20 – Lee Evans off (66’)
2 – George Baldock on, 18 – Kieron Freeman off (76’)
14 – Ryan Leonard on, 19 – Richard Stearman off (80’)
Yellow Cards: 4 – John Fleck (44’)
20 – Lee Evans (52’)
3 – Enda Stevens (66’)
10 – Billy Sharp (81’)
Preston North End:
1 – Declan Rudd, 3 – Greg Cunningham ©, 4 – Ben Pearson, 8 – Alan Browne, 10 – Josh
Harrop, 11 – Daniel Johnson, 14 – Darnell Fisher, 20 – Ben Davies, 23 – Paul Huntington,
24 – Sean Maguire, 37 – Callum Robinson
Substitutes: 12 – Paul Gallagher on, 10 – Josh Harrop off (67’)
5 – Tom Clarke on, 11 – Daniel Johnson off (67’)
Goal Scorers: 8 – Alan Browne (57’)
Yellow Cards: 14 – Darnell Fisher (28’)
10 – Josh Harrop (31’)
1 – Declan Rudd (95’)
Referee: James Linington
MOTM: 6 – Chris Basham (Sheffield United)
Attendance: 28, 569 (Away fans: 1,610)