EFL League One
Sheffield United 1-1 Scunthorpe United
Billy Sharp’s 21st goal of the season rescued a point against promotion rivals Scunthorpe as Sheffield United were held to a 1-1 draw at Bramall Lane.
Blades boss, Chris Wilder, claimed in the week that “there had never been so much pressure” but on the basis of this performance against second-placed Scunthorpe you would never have believed it.
Despite a dominating first-period that had everything but a goal, the Blades found themselves 1-0 down thanks to Paddy Madden’s quick thinking to side-foot home. It took Sharp just two minutes to level, drilling in at the back post, to give the Blades a share of the spoils.
While titles are by no means won in February, Sheffield United made a statement on their march towards the Championship, even though a win would have given them more breathing space at the summit of the division. With Scunthorpe being five points and a game behind the Blades prior to kick-off, a win for Wilder’s men would have inflicted a damning blow to the Iron’s hope of winning League One outright. They made life difficult though, even with ten-men after Harry Toffolo was shown a red in the early stages of the second half.
It was a performance that pleased the Blades boss, although he said that the dressing room were somewhat disappointed that they hadn’t picked up three points.
Wilder commented: “In the changing room there’s a little bit of disappointment but I’ve told them there’s no reason for them to feel disappointed at all. That was a proper performance by my team.
“The attitude of the players, the fans, the club, was an outstanding one. Sheffield’s a footballing city, two big clubs in the city, and the people know their football. When the players are getting a standing ovation for a 1-1 draw at home I think that tells a big story.”
The Blades made four changes with skipper Billy Sharp and Mark Duffy reinstated to the starting-line up after being rested for the 0-0 draw with Bristol Rovers on Tuesday, meaning that Caolan Lavery and Matt Done dropped to the bench. James Hanson, signed from Bradford City in the January transfer window, returned from a groin injury to be thrown straight into action at the expense of Manchester United loanee Joe Riley. Keeper Simon Moore, who broke his nose during the draw, kept his place in between the sticks while Jay O’Shea was replaced by Kieron Freeman.
Sharp, who spent two seasons at the Iron back in 2005, spooned a shot over within the first two minutes after connecting with Daniel Lafferty’s pull-back as Levi Sutton was shown a clean pair of heels on the left. An early sign of intent from the Blades indeed.
If Sharp’s chance was a promising one then Duffy had an even better opportunity moments later. The creative midfielder found himself free in the box only to side-foot narrowly wide of an upright following a neat one-two with his captain. Scunthorpe let off the hook again. A chance that the home faithful would have craved before kick-off.
Tackles soon began flying in on the near touchline with both benches contesting decisions in equal measure, the sense of occasion soon confirmed as the Lane erupted after Duffy was wiped out.
Luke Daniels then had to be alert in the Iron goal as Lafferty picked out Hanson in the box. The tall striker leapt highest in the area and watched as his powerful header was deflected and tipped wide of the woodwork.
It took 25 minutes for the visitors to register their first shot but skipper Stephen Dawson, after instigating the move and stretching United with a pass out wide to Matt Crooks, hit an convincing shot that dragged wide of the left-hand post. The former Leyton Orient and Barnsley midfielder had another opportunity shortly after but blazed over.
Shouts for a penalty were firmly waved away after Sharp was dispossessed by a perfectly executed tackle by Harry Toffolo, who was already cautioned. He had to get it right and, to the relief of the travelling Iron supporters, he did just that.
Kevin van Veen then ploughed through late on Jake Wright causing a brief fracas on the side-lines. It got the season-record crowd of 27,980 riled and with five minutes of the half remaining Hanson sent a venomous header that Daniels collected impressively. The two sides, though, were forced to go into the break on level terms as Scunthorpe failed to register a shot on target. It was an outstanding performance from the Blades, it just lacked that all important goal.
For all their work in the first-half it was undone three minutes into the second-period as Madden blasted the ball past Moore. A deflection took the ball into the striker’s path and he made no error in side-footing home his seventh of the season to get the Iron off to the best possible start.
The lead lasted all of two minutes however as Sharp fired in after the ball dropped into the box. Some resilient defending from the visitors couldn’t prevent the striker from drilling home on the half-volley into the bottom corner.
It was no less than the home side deserved and it sparked an Iron implosion as Toffolo was shown his marching orders for a second yellow shortly after. The impetus was now back with the Blades.
John Fleck, who controlled the midfield effortlessly throughout the game, came within inches of putting the Blades in front when he let fly on a drilled effort from range. It dipped over with Daniels stranded.
Lavery, brought on for Hanson, forced a save at Daniel’s near-post as he stabbed it from close-range.
Sharp then had a chance to gain the lead but the cross from the left ran over his outstretched boot shortly after O’Connell claimed he was pushed in the back inside the box. Nothing given. United getting closer.
Duffy then sent in a teasing cross with five minutes left but the three red and white players that were in the box couldn’t stretch their necks to nod home an almost certain winner.
The Blades were nearly undone by a pacey counter-attack that saw Madden denied his second of the game as he cracked the post after latching on to Sam Mantom’s delivery. Heart-in-mouth moment indeed.
Substitute Jay O’Shea then had a similar chance to net a late winner in injury time but he also saw his side-footed effort hit the foot of the post on an afternoon that boss Wilder felt his side shaded. Wilder, whose side welcome third-placed Bolton on Saturday, said: “We made them look decidedly average and it was a big game for them obviously with the run that they’ve had.
“It’s been a big week for us. We’re possibly a couple of points light in regards to the points we would’ve liked this week, but you’ve seen what the players are about today.
“Little bit of a criticism is the last ten minutes. We didn’t keep our shape and we didn’t move it around them as well as I would’ve liked us to.
“It was quite a fortunate goal, it’s gone between three or four players but they’ll look at is a good goal for them and we must’ve got into about a dozen of those positions first-half so we’ll look at ourselves and say we need to do better in those positions.”