Bramall Lane erupted in relieved delight as Billy Sharp finally got the better of a resilient rearguard action by Huddersfield Town, scoring the Blades’ first League goal of the season and surely earning a deserved point for his side? The veteran had already given notice that his obligatory strike against the visitors was on its way with a snap volley straight at Nicholls.
Most of the Yorkshire crowd would have accepted a draw following a largely dour struggle, though the West Riding contingent felt more deflated that an injury-time leveller apparently prevented a second, dogged, victory of the week.
It is greatly to the Terriers’ credit that, rather than clamming up to protect their reduced reward, they won a corner and decided to deliver it rather than take all the sting out of the game with some time-consuming tippy-tappy (which invariably results in a dead ball and a final assault).
Thomas’s delivery, which had been a little below par on the few opportunities he had, was far more dangerous this time and needed to be cleared. Picking up the ball, Sarr laid it sideways to Vallejo, whose pass was intended for O’Brien but landed at Toffolo’s feet. The much-missed full-back superbly turned his marker and laid the ball square for Colwill to convert his first professional goal and Town’s winner.
Two minutes of an otherwise forgettable game may, and perhaps should, provide the catalyst for an upturn in fortune for Town. Though still lacking much of a spark, and heavily reliant on Thomas for moments of entertainment, the shambles witnessed against Fulham has been replaced by unspectacular (to say the least) discipline.
Neither of the subsequent opponents has the quality of the favourites for the league, but the Blades can call upon 4 strikers of variety who were largely subdued as they took turns to try and break down their Yorkshire neighbours. Sarr, in particular, stood firm and, so far, is only eclipsed by Thomas as Town’s most effective individual.
Town started quite well, taking the game to their nervous hosts, fresh from a midweek battering, but the early promise fizzled out quickly and United began to dominate possession. Pushed back, the Terriers were disciplined, restricting their hosts to a spectacular but fairly harmless overhead attempt by McBurnie which Nicholls pushed away with relative ease and a free-kick by Norwood straight at the well-positioned keeper.
Norwood’s opportunity arose from Turton and Hogg over passing on the halfway line allowing McBurnie space to run at the defence. Turton, who needs to step up in the absence of Pipa and is too prone to error, fouled the Scottish international on the edge of the box.
Through the middle, the obvious class of Berge rather shone out despite the youngster failing to unlock Town’s defensive wall. Scares were few for the visitors but with them carrying no threat themselves, the contest rarely nudged above the mundane.
Ten years ago, the last Blades v Terriers league meeting in Sheffield featured Danny Ward. It was patently absurd that he featured again (but for his injury, Jordan Rhodes, a sub that day, would also be back on the away bench), made all the more ludicrous by his supreme ineffectiveness in the previous 2 games.
On the hour, Town made the changes that would ultimately decide the game. The invisible Ward made way for Campbell, while Toffolo replaced High. The appearance of the first choice left-back allowed Town to change shape and dynamic; Ward’s anaemic display was replaced by Campbell’s energy, which may not bring the veteran many goals but causes far more difficulties for the opposition.
Suddenly, the visitors, who had survived a spell of sustained but chance-free pressure, began to threaten. Koroma shot wide from a decent position and Campbell spurned two opportunities to shoot before being robbed of possession. But the Terriers had disrupted the one-way traffic and exploited United’s nerves as a first goal continued to elude them.
It seemed inevitable that Town would score after soaking up so much pressure, and an excellent through ball by Thomas to Koroma opened up the Blades’ defence. Koroma got a shot away which was blocked by Foderingham but calmly side-footed the rebound to register his first goal of the season.
Sharp’s equaliser, a goal created by his strength and instinct, and Colwill’s late winner embellished a game low on quality if high on endeavour.
The similarities between Sheffield United’s first season back in the Championship following an awful 2nd Premier League campaign and that endured by Town are pretty obvious. Blades fans should look at our plight over the past few seasons and worry.
For the Terriers, this week may or may not prove pivotal to their fortunes. Other than brief spells towards the end of each game, performances have been poor, if determined, but the return of Toffolo augurs well for the options Corberán now has for his team.
No doubt this cautious optimism will come crashing down at some point, sooner rather than later perhaps, but to take 7 points from a quartet of fixtures where we have played well for just short periods, and this is being charitable, is encouraging.