Sport Soccer

Friday 17 January 2020

European dream now real target for Blades

Brighton 0 Sheffield United 1

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Paul Doyle

From the Championship to the Champions League in a little over a year? Sheffield United would have been escorted off the premises had they trumpeted such an ambition before the start of this season, but the table shows that Chris Wilder and his team are redefining what is reasonable.

They will go into Christmas within touching distance of the top four thanks to another deserved away win.

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With no one having managed to beat Sheffield United at home this season, it fell to Graham Potter to try to orchestrate their downfall. He succeeded in doing that when he was in charge of Swansea, but that match, more than 11 months ago in the Championship, remains the last away game that Wilder's team have lost in any league.

Swansea's scorer that day was Oli McBurnie and now, following his £20m summer transfer, he is doing the business for the Blades. His goal here was his third since his move and it rewarded another accomplished performance by the visitors. Brighton, generally so effervescent since Potter's arrival, were unusually flat for most of this match, seemingly nonplussed by their superbly coached opponents, who seemed to outnumber them in every area.

As intricate as Wilder's team-building is, the breakthrough goal was down to good old-fashioned barnstorming by McBurnie. After beating centre-back Adam Webster to a punt down field by goalkeeper Dean Henderson, the striker headed the ball on for himself to chase and then held off the other centre-back, Lewis Dunk, before firing a low shot into the net via the post.

United were unlucky not to be in front before that. John Egan thought he had given them the lead in the ninth minute by diverting the ball into the net from close range following a corner by Luke Freeman. But the goal was ruled out because the ball brushed against Egan's hand after hitting his thigh; the offence made little difference to the trajectory but the handball law no longer permits officials to use their discretion.

Sheffield United's Jack O'Connell celebrates scoring a goal with Oliver McBurnie and teammates before it is disallowed following a referral to VAR. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Sheffield United's Jack O'Connell celebrates scoring a goal with Oliver McBurnie and teammates before it is disallowed following a referral to VAR. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Soon Brighton also had a goal rubbed out, this one for a straightforward offside, Martin Montoya being illegally positioned when he collected the ball after a fine save by Henderson from a shot by Aaron Mooy. That was Brighton's only notable shot in the first period.

United did not exactly bombard the home goal but they controlled most of the play, even without the ball. Brighton barely seemed to know what to do with possession when they had it, so effectively did Wilder's team deny them space. It all proved quite frazzling.

Webster looked particularly discombobulated so it was no surprise when he made a mistake in the 48th minute, leaving an attempted header back to Mathew Ryan short under pressure from David McGoldrick. What was shocking, however, was that McGoldrick did not take advantage. Instead, after loping past the goalkeeper, the Irish striker missed an open goal, shooting into the side netting from the corner of the six-yard box. This, then, was another game in which McGoldrick performed splendidly overall but could not locate the net. His wait for a Premier League goal goes on.

In a reversal of their experience at Crystal Palace on Monday, Brighton came on strong in the last 25 minutes. Now they played with a bit of fizz, and United had to work harder.

Sheffield United's David McGoldrick shoots wide after going past Brighton & Hove Albion's Mathew Ryan. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Sheffield United's David McGoldrick shoots wide after going past Brighton & Hove Albion's Mathew Ryan. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Four minutes later the sprightly substitute Aaron Connolly forced Henderson to tip a curling shot from 20 yards over the bar. McGoldrick went close at the other end on a counter-attack before, with three minutes left, Yves Bissouma summed up Brighton's exasperation at United's impenetrability by getting booked for throwing himself to the ground in the box.

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