Match report: Sheffield United 0 Wolves 2

Ben Davies against old boy Kevin McDonald
Ben Davies against old boy Kevin McDonald
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A match surrounded by pomp, ceremony and poignancy failed to produce, from Sheffield United’s perspective at least, the desired result.

So perhaps it was inevitable that, as the famous old club celebrated its 125th birthday, two of its key protagonists preferred to talk about the future rather than wallow in the past.

Wolverhampton Wanderers might have condemned United to a first defeat in 12 outings after producing the type of brutally efficient display which has propelled them to the summit of League One.

But United manager Nigel Clough insisted aspects of his team’s performance suggested they are eminently capable of replicating the visitors’ achievements by mounting a serious challenge for promotion next term.

Echoing those sentiments, United midfielder Conor Coady said: “Wolves are a good team and, given the position they are in, that’s the benchmark we’ve got to aim for. You’ve always got to look towards whoever is on top of the table and measure yourselves against them.

“I didn’t think we were that far off them and we had our opportunities to get something from the match. It was one of those which swung on tiny little things and, unfortunately from our point of view, they didn’t go our way.

“We’re gutted, absolutely gutted, that we didn’t come away with a win or at least something from that.

“But we can’t dwell on it. We’ve got to look to the future now and the next game.”

It was, however, impossible to escape the history which surrounded Saturday’s contest as United arranged a guard of honour, comprised of former players and their relatives, to ensure both teams did not walk on to the pitch alone.

Fred Furniss, whose debut was interuppted by an air raid in 1941, Tony Currie, Alan Hodgkinson and Derek Geary were among those who took part, and Coady, on loan from Liverpool, said: “It was fantastic. When you come to a massive club like this one, for its legends to do something like that, well, it felt great.

“I know the history here is huge and I’ve tried to learn as much about it as I can. I think that’s important.”

“What a build-up,” he continued. “I thought it was superb and it really did put a sense of perspective on things. It just rammed it home the stature of this place and how much the people who have represented it before are respected and remembered.

“The gaffer had spoken to us about it beforehand and let us know exactly what was going to happen.

“It’s just a shame that we couldn’t get the right result.”

This, as Clough later acknowledged, was a big match which hinged on small details.

Wolves, who became the first side to score against United in more than 14 hours of football when James Henry’s cross found its way into the back of Mark Howard’s net, prevailed courtesy of their greater game-management. The visitors, who have now hit the target 28 times in only 12 outings, were clinical and, when the situation demanded, cynical as the six yellow cards they collected demonstrated.

“That showed they had to do something to stop us,” Clough, whose side return to action at Crawley Town tomorrow, said. “But they just had that little bit of extra quality and experience which, if we are being honest, made the difference.

“They are a good measure because, even though we won’t have the benefit of a Premier League parachute payment, Wolves are where we want to be and we know we can achieve that.

“What the lads have achieved in the past couple of months has probably put us a little bit further ahead in terms of schedule than we thought but there’s still quite a lot of work to do.

“However, seeing our lads go from second bottom a couple of months ago to now going toe to toe with the team at the top of table suggests we are not that far off. It’s disappointing to lose but, at the same time, I think we can take lots of encouragement.”

Had Stefan Scougall, who spent a fortnight on trial at Molineux last summer, not seen Carl Ikeme produce a splendid reaction save to claw away his early effort then the story of this game might have been different.

However, when Henry’s centre sneaked inside United’s far post soon after - Dave Edwards, who later claimed the visitors’ second, preventing Howard from accurately calculating the flight of the ball - Clough’s players found themselves in the unenviable position of having to chase opponents boasting the division’s best attack away from home.

Jose Baxter twice forced Ikeme to block while John Brayford, returning following injury, saw an attempt cleared off the line by Richard Stearman as United searched for a route back into the game. However Wolves, who had seen Henry strike the woodwork with a long-range drive, scored again when Edwards pounced.

Michael Jacobs and Henry combined well before Matt Doherty found the Welshman with a slightly fortuitious touch.

Coady, who together with Neill Collins had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down, said: “We had our own opportunities and, you never know, things might have been different if one of those had gone in. It wasn’t to be, though, and so now we look ahead. We’ve been on a great run and so now, as the gaffer has told us in the dressing room, the challenge is to go on another one.”

Scougall and Baxter went close again during the closing stages while Leon Clarke, the former Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward, wasted a glorious chance to claim his fifth goal in three outings against United by clipping carelessly over the crossbar.

Kevin McDonald, making his first appearance at Bramall Lane since completing a £250,000 transfer to Wolves in August, became increasingly influential.

“We’re very disappointed,” Clough said. “We felt disappointed after drawing a game (at Preston) after previously winning 10 in a row. But the lads need not feel too down given the run they’ve been on of late.

“Their target now is to bounce straight back and look to try and win the next game.”

Hero: John Brayford again demonstrated his worth after returning following injury. The defender was impressive at the back and a constant menance to the visitors in attack. Showed industry and invention.