Match Report: Mansfield Town 0 Sheffield United 1

Mansfield Town V Sheffield United. 'Pic: Martyn Harrison.
Mansfield Town V Sheffield United. 'Pic: Martyn Harrison.
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Sheffield United have been at pains to keep a low profile as preparations for the new season continue to gather pace.

But facets of this performance, which maintained their unbeaten record under David Weir’s stewardship, will only fuel suspicions they are destined to enjoy a profitable campaign.

A flurry of changes during the closing stages interrupted the visitors’ rhythm and threatened to allow Mansfield Town, whose over-zealous tackling later incurred Weir’s wrath, a route back into the game.

But there were moments when United simply bamboozled Paul Cox’s side with their passing.

The sight of some gilt-edged chances going begging will have been Weir’s only real cause for concern.

Kevin McDonald, again deployed in a more attacking role, delivered a glowing assessment of tactics Weir and his staff have employed after watching Febian Brandy’s effort settle Saturday’s robust contest.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air to be honest,” the midfielder said. “I’ve been playing as a ’number 10’ lately and I’m loving every minute of it.

“I’ve not been asked to do that since I was a kid coming through at Dundee. And it was back then that I scored a lot of goals so hopefully I can do that again.

“If the manager wants to carry on doing that when the real stuff starts then brilliant. Obviously you can contribute more in an attacking sense up there.

“But if not, and he wants to go with something else, then that’s okay too. I’ll get my head down and battle hard for a place.”

Sharp focus and steely determination have quickly become the hallmarks of Weir’s embryonic reign, with the former Scotland international deliberately shying away from making any bold pronouncements about his team’s intentions next term.

Indeed Weir, who confirmed Conor Coady’s loan signing from Liverpool should be processed this morning, has mentioned the dreaded ‘p’ word on only a handful of occasions since taking charge of the South Yorkshire club nearly two months ago.

It is still far too soon to draw any conclusions about how the promotion race will unfold but McDonald said: “Things are coming along nicely and we came through a real physical test out there so that’s probably answered a few question too.

“All we can do is keep working on what we’re doing and trying to get better, improve in every way we possibly can.”

United’s failings in the opposition box had a corrosive effect upon their confidence last season, with both tactics and form unravelling en route to May’s ill-fated play-off semi-final with Yeovil Town.

Lyle Taylor’s presence in the squad which travelled to Field Mill - the 23-year-old completed a £250,000 transfer to Bramall Lane on Wednesday following a prolific spell at Falkirk - confirms Weir has made tackling that problem his top priority ahead of August 2’s League One curtain-raiser with Notts County.

Taylor, who entered the fray on the hour, showcased the awareness and opportunism which saw him average a goal every 1.4 games north of the border during a lively 30-minute cameo.

But, despite unleashing a powerful shot during the closing stages, he was unable to increase the margin of victory.

“We should have been four or five up at one point, to be honest,” McDonald said. “That was the only real disappointment for me, that we didn’t get more.

“We created enough and got into some good positions but, looking at what happened out there, I know that part of things is definitely going to come.

“Fair play to Mansfield, they pressed us as the match went on and

they had a few openings themselves.

“But things are coming along nicely overall and I definitely thought we deserved to come out on top.”

United, stung into action by Matt Rhead’s early attempt, required only three minutes to take the lead courtesy of Brandy’s close-range finish.

Brandy, profiting from Darryl Westlake’s centre, went close to adding a second after Jamie Murphy’s free-kick had earlier tested Alan Marriott but the Mansfield goalkeeper stood firm.

Murphy, like Brandy, seemingly granted freedom to roam, continued to pepper Marriott’s goal while Chris Porter drew an excellent block from the former Tottenham Hotspurs trainee following McDonald’s defence-splitting pass.

United started the second half in the same fashion they had the first. Mansfield, being suffocated by the visitors’ possession, should have fallen further behind soon after the interval but McDonald scooped wide.

The League Two club showed flashes of potential - most notably when substitute Jamie McGuire sent George Long scampering across his line - before a fine period of pressure culminated in the United youngster denying Lee Stevenson.

Long was called upon again, this time to smother at the feet of Amari Morgan-Smith as Mansfield grew in stature but they were unable to restore parity.

“Overall, I thought we acquitted ourselves well against a team I expect to be right up there with the best in their division next season,” Cox said.

“This time of year is all about fitness levels and although it’s always nice to win I’m not going to be too downhearted that we didn’t do that here.”

MANSFIELD: Marriott, Beevers (Sutton 62), Black, Dempster, McCombe (Tafazolli 24), Murtagh, Speight (Morgan-Smith 46), Clucas (Arnold 46), Daniel (Meikle 42), Howell (McGuire 62), Rhead (Stevenson 46). Not used: Riley, Dyer, Hutchinson, Clements, Pilkington, Murray.

UNITED: Long, Westlake, Williams, Maguire, Doyle (Whitehouse 81), Porter (Taylor 60), Brandy (McFadzean 76), Murphy (Johns 60), McGinn, Collins, McDonald. Not used: Howard, Hill, McGinty.

REFEREE: M Naylor.

GOAL: Brandy 3.