Sunday 15 September 2019

Irishmen show their steel and James McCarthy's fire still burns as Sheffield United beat Palace

Sheffield United 1 Crystal Palace 0

Crystal Palace's Vicente Guaita makes a save from Sheffield United's David McGoldrick
Crystal Palace's Vicente Guaita makes a save from Sheffield United's David McGoldrick

David Sneyd at Bramall Lane

This was Sheffield United's return to the Premier League after 12 years struggling to find their way back, and the regulars in the Jump ‘n' Jive Café on matchday are very happy.

Gareth Rowett and his two sons, Koby (13) and Denny (11) have just finished their morning fry up when talk turns to the 90 minutes ahead.

It's Crystal Palace visiting Bramall Lane, hardly the most glamorous of opponents, but this feels like vindication for their travails over the last decade.

"We've been everywhere, from League One to here, the boys have come out of Wembley with tears in their eyes so it means the absolute world to us to be here for the Premier League," Gareth beams.

Rowett family is as follow (from left), Gareth, Koby (13), Denny (11).

Father and sons travel home and away to watch the Blade in his work van. "There's three seats in the front so we go along singing together and get hyped for the game," Gareth continues. "For the midweek games there will be a mad race straight from school and lots of last nights."

That's because the Rowetts live 150 miles away in Suffolk, where Gareth moved to from Sheffield as a teenager.

This Sheffield United team have captured the imagination of the Steel City, but it is their mixture of panache and grit that excites the boys. "There's a joke going around that this is a Brexit team," Koby laughs. "But it's exciting to watch. And there aren't many Irish players left in the Premier League but we have some good ones here."

And two of them, David McGoldrick and Enda Stevens, played a key role in the goal which won the game two minutes into the second half.

McGoldrick, as he was given licence to all afternoon, dropped deep and started the move near the half-way line. Substitute Luke Freeman then linked up with left full Stevens, who, as usual, found himself by the corner of the Palace penalty box and fed the onrushing Freeman. His shot was parried by Vicente Guaita and that allowed John Lundstram rifle home from close range with Callum Robinson just ahead of the rebound.

The Ireland forward's day came to an end nine minutes later when he limped off with what appeared to be a muscle injury, a possible cause for concern ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifier with Switzerland.

What will have pleased Mick McCarthy, other than McGoldrick pulling the strings in attack (although he did miss a sitter from inside the six-yard box in the first half), Stevens a constant threat on the wing and John Egan marshalling a solid defence to a clean sheet, was the 27 minutes of action James McCarthy got for Palace.

The Ireland boss said he needs Premier League minutes in his legs – he played only once for Everton last season following a fractured tibia and fibula – and he was welcomed back into action here with a crunching tackle from George Baldock.

McCarthy took exception, squaring up to the United right back, and received a yellow card for his troubles.

The fire still burns, at least.

Crystal Palace's James McCarthy (left) and Sheffield United's George Baldock confront each other

But Palace had no spark here. While United secured a dramatic late point away to Bournemouth on the opening day of the season last weekend it was here, in front of 30,000 of their own supporters, that it felt like things were really up and running.

Bramall Lane rose in unison just before kick off to serenade their new heroes with an anthem which pays homage to various aspects of the city.

You fill up my senses,

Like a gallon of Magnet,

Like a packet of Woodbines,

Like a good pinch of snuff,

Like a night out in Sheffield,

Like a greasy chip butty,

Like Sheffield United,

Come fill me again

Na na na na na...Ooooohh!

It is easy to forget that communities like this one are far removed from the wealth swirling around the Premier League. Sheffield United, and Bramall Lane, retains an appealing charm.

Players walk through the main car park to enter the ground, signing autographs and posing for selfies along the way.

Stevens was swamped for the best part of 10 minutes as he made his way in, obliging for every request, while on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson was met with a couple of dozen fans before he even stepped foot outside of his Mercedes.

A small garden of remembrance flanks one side of the Tony Currie Stand – which has great big cement pillars similar to those in Dublin Airport – with memories of supporters who have passed away. One of the black plaques, with gold inscription, which caught the eye was that of 'Niall Hano' Hannigan, a St Patrick's Athletic supporter with strong links to Sheffield who died in 2015, with the message: Ní neart go cur le chéile

There is no strength without unity.

Sheffield United, led by its strong Ireland contingent, are proving that here.

Online Editors

The Throw-In: Selection dilemma for Dublin and All-Ireland ladies football final preview

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport