Monday 9 December 2019

Blades earn late point to leave Ole with mixed emotions

Sheffield United 3 Manchester United 3

Late leveller: Sheffield United’s Oliver McBurnie scores his side’s third goal past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at Bramall Lane yesterday. Photo: Jon Super/AP Photo
Late leveller: Sheffield United’s Oliver McBurnie scores his side’s third goal past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea at Bramall Lane yesterday. Photo: Jon Super/AP Photo

Jason Burt

"That's football," said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The only thing he did not add was "bloody hell". Alex Ferguson was in the stands and even started laughing as somehow, unbelievably, Manchester United found themselves 3-2 up having been utterly dominated, at times humiliated, by promoted Sheffield United for 71 minutes.

That the home side then salvaged a draw, with a 90th-minute equaliser, after another interminable VAR check, was the very least that they deserved in what became a marvellous encounter.

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Up until Manchester United's unlikely and frankly unbelievable revival it felt like they had been bullied, beaten, pulled apart in the Bramall Lane bear-pit with obituaries for Solskjaer being composed amid choruses of "sacked in the morning". The manager felt the cold touch of Sheffield steel in what was a white-hot atmosphere.

Instead Solskjaer escaped claiming there was optimism - pointing to the age of Manchester United's goalscorers who were 18-year-old Brandon Williams, 19-year-old Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford at the grand old age of 22.

Jet-heeled

Plus, in that extraordinary seven-minute, three-goal burst, there was a jet-heeled contribution from Daniel James, also just 22.

Ireland striker David McGoldrick collides with Manchester United defender Phil Jones, who was substituted at half-time after a nightmare first half. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Ireland striker David McGoldrick collides with Manchester United defender Phil Jones, who was substituted at half-time after a nightmare first half. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

So that is the good news as Solskjaer inevitably accentuated. He talked of football sometimes being "beyond tactics", that his team - this season compared to last - "never give in" as they did, he said, in a 4-0 loss away to Everton in April and even argued "this is such a big stride forward" for them in coming back from 2-0 down. That was a spin-doctor's take worthy of any general election guru.

But there were concessions also. "You can't be happy because we haven't performed in the majority of the game," Solskjaer added, admitting the home team had appeared to "want it more than us" and that he could have changed his entire team at half-time, apart from goalkeeper David De Gea.

"Release the fear," was another phrase used by Solskjaer and no-one could accuse Sheffield United of having that kind of inhibition.

"We came in the front door and we are going to go out the front door," declared manager Chris Wilder and he and his team live by that and deserve boundless praise as they are the story of this Premier League season so far.

Alex Ferguson watches on from the stands. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Alex Ferguson watches on from the stands. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

The glimmer of hope for Manchester United was that they were only one goal down at half-time. It could have been two, three for Sheffield United who had harried their opponents and not least in scoring John Fleck's goal.

Manchester United started with three-at-the-back, acknowledging Sheffield United's threat, but it was a disaster. They lacked belief, organisation and, that buzzword, "passion" and Phil Jones's first league start of the season was probably also his last.

The defender was soon trending on Twitter which was never going to be a good thing as he spent more time on his backside than standing up and inevitably he was dumped to the turf as he was out-muscled by the impressive Lys Mousset as they chased down a long ball forward. Jones panicked, Mousset gained possession and ran into the area before cutting the ball back for John Lundstram whose shot was parried by De Gea with his right leg only for the rebound to strike the onrushing Fleck and fly into the net.

The roar rang around the stadium and the goal was the least Sheffield United deserved. De Gea had already denied them with a sharp double save as he pushed away Lundstram's volley and reacted brilliantly to instinctively stick out his right hand and divert David McGoldrick's point-blank header. But Sheffield United would not be denied. Andreas Pereira, who like Fred was simply terrible in central midfield, lost the ball and Fleck cleverly used McGoldrick's run to divert attention before playing an excellent reverse pass to Mousset who strode on and beat De Gea from outside the area with a precise, low curling shot.

United's first goal was out of the blue with James crossing, Chris Basham heading it out and Williams striking a superb first-time shot back across goal to beat stand-in goalkeeper Simon Moore, who replaced the ineligible Dean Henderson who is on loan from Manchester United.

"Their first goal has come out of nothing," Wilder said. "It changed from '2-0 is a dangerous scoreline' to 'oops, we are 3-2 down'. They just switched the light when it's 2-1."

That was a fair summation and an illuminated game was lit up even more. the visitors were transformed, liberated and ran free with Rashford arcing the ball in from the right and substitute Greenwood sliding to beat Moore from close-range. Soon after James tore into the area and had the composure to pick out Rashford who side-footed home.

Wilder's troops dug deep with the ball turned into the area by substitute Callum Robinson for fellow replacement Oli McBurnie who juggled without it touching his arm before firing low past De Gea. There was a VAR check; a claim of handball with Wilder's wild celebrations cut short and the manager tempted to disappear down the tunnel. He did not have to. The goal was given and this grand old stadium erupted again.(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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