HAVING spent six weeks sparring predominately with wannabes and journeymen, Sheffield United finally confronted a genuine League One contender at Bramall Lane last night.
A nervous defensive display ensured this contest between two of the division’s leading heavyweights ended emphatically in Huddersfield Town’s favour with Lee Novak, their in-form marksman, netting a brace.
Novak spent the early part of his career with Newcastle Blue Star but, ruthlessly exploiting United’s fragility at the back, delivered a performance worthy of gracing St James’ let alone Kingston Park.
An error from Steve Simonsen, who palmed Danny Ward’s effort into his path, presented the grateful Geordie with his first before Scott Arfield’s cross enabled him to put the match beyond United’s reach.
When Oscar Gobern dispatched Ward’s corner just before the break, the hosts’ misery was complete.
United, despite out-passed at times, were far from shambolic.
But the fact they were beaten by such accomplished and well-drilled opponents, who have now gone 33 games without defeat in regular competition, will be of precious little consolation when they reflect on only their second reverse of the 2011/12 campaign.
Those visiting supporters who failed to observe the unofficial boycott in protest at what it were claimed to be exorbitant admission prices, would gladly have stumped-up double the £28 fee.
United used this eagerly anticipated Yorkshire derby to unveil their latest round of recruits.
With new chief executive Julian Winter watching from the stands, Marcus Williams marshalled the left hand side of a rearguard had previously been breached only four times since being relegated last term.
Manager Danny Wilson, whose no-nonsense style had proven so effective during the early stages of his reign, shies away from making wholesale changes.
So, with Lecsinel Jean-Francois serving a one match suspension, his response was to simply enter the loan market and sign a like for like replacement.
Williams, who is scheduled to spend the next 28 days in his native South Yorkshire, acquitted himself well but will not look back on his United debut with any fondness.
Huddersfield showed glimpses of the form which propelled them into last season‘s play-off final when Lee Novak and Gobern warmed Simonsen‘s gloves in quick succession.
But, until Novak opened the scoring in the 20th minute, United spent the majority of the opening period in the ascendancy.
Chris Porter, dovetailing well with Richard Cresswell, flashed a glancing header just wide of the post before his strike partner drew a fine save from his former colleague Ian Bennett as United looked to seize control during the early exchanges.
Cresswell should have done better moments later when he ghosted beyond his marker but his touch deserted him at the vital moment.
Lee Williamson, restored to the starting eleven, showed more poise when he produced a delicate lob from just outside Bennett’s penalty box following an incisive interchange but the ball, much to the Huddersfield goalkeeper’s relief, nestled on the roof of the net.
At the other end, however, Simonsen’s fortune deserted him when he was deceived by the trajectory of Ward’s long-range strike and presented Novak with the simplest of tap-ins.
United were inches away from an instant response when Harry Maguire came within a whisker of meeting Stephen Quinn’s set-piece although Alan Lee was responsible for spurning a glorious opportunity to extend Huddersfield’s advantage when he headed tamely at a visibly dejected Simonsen.
United continued to enjoy plenty of possession but, until Ryan Flynn sent Matthew Lowton scampering down the flank in the 36th minute , struggled to plot a course through the massed ranks of Huddersfield’s defence.
The youngster drove a low centre into the box but Porter inexplicably failed to hit the target from point blank range.
Less than 60 seconds later Novak ensured United paid the ultimate price for their profligacy when he doubled Huddersfield’s lead with another clinical finish.
When Gobern made up for his earlier error by converting Ward’s 40th minute corner, Wilson was left shaking his head in dismay.
Ched Evans, making only his second appearance since returning from injury, tested Bennett with a free-kick immediately after the re-start but was also responsible for a glaring miss when, despite shrugging off his marker, he failed to find .
Lowton unleashed a rasping effort and another substitute, Kevin McDonald, drew a fine block from Bennett during the closing stages.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Simonsen 5, Lowton 6, Doyle 6, Flynn 5 (Mendez-Laing 71, 5), Williamson 5 (McDonald 46, 6), Collins 6, Cresswell 6, Maguire 6, Porter 5 (Evans 46, 6), Quinn 6, Williams 7. Not used: Parrino, Long.
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN: Bennett 8, Woods 6, McCombe 7, Kay 7, Gobern 7, Ward 7, Johnson 6, Arfield 7 (Robinson 68, 6), Lee 8, Novak 8 (Rhodes 71, 5), Hunt 6. Not used: Roberts, Cooper, Colgan.