Match Report: Sheffield United 2 Brentford 2

Dave Kitson scores for United
Dave Kitson scores for United
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An extraordinary match which produced four goals, three sendings-off and a flurry of penalties ended with the destiny of the race for automatic promotion being wrestled from Sheffield United’s hands.

Dave Kitson thought he had claimed a dramatic winner after Chris Morgan’s side, trailing to Marcello Trotta’s early effort, clawed themselves back on level terms courtesy of Barry Robson’s thunderous finish.

But Bradley Wright-Phillips broke the home side’s hearts by snatching a point for Brentford at the death, although Simon Moore was still required to produce a breathtaking save to prevent Tony McMahon from scoring deep into added time.

While United, now five points behind second-placed AFC Bournemouth with one game in hand, are left to reflect on this agonising outcome, referee Keith Stroud could be called upon to explain a string of sometimes perplexing decisions which angered and confused both Brentford - who finished the contest with nine men - and the South Yorkshire club alike.

However, United, having seen Harry Maguire dismissed either side of red cards for Tony Craig and Clayton Donaldson, will not want the official’s bizarre display to overshadow another performance bristling with purpose and passion.

On this evidence Morgan, despite initially being handed the manager’s job until the end of the season, will prove a hard man to shift.

United, displaying the determination and intensity which had been evident during Morgan’s first League One match at the helm against Swindon Town four days ago , fell behind midway through the opening period when Trotta converted from the spot.

Having appeared on the verge of a breakthrough before the Italian’s intervention, which came after George Long was adjudged to have felled Donaldson, the hosts missed a penalty of their own after Brentford’s captain Tony Craig had been dismissed for confronting Kitson.

Tony McMahon, usually so clinical from dead-ball situations, instead saw his penalty cannon back off the crossbar but substitute Robson made no mistake from the spot.

This match pitted United against the team they would quite like to be.

Brentford might be the most prestigious name in the division. Nor do they draw its biggest crowds.

But a series of imaginative acquisitions in the transfer market, which have spirited the likes of Harry Forrester and Sam Saunders to Griffin Park, has won plenty of friends in the posh seats at Bramall Lane where directors and coaching staff alike are also keen to dispel the myth that it takes a king’s ransom to build an effective squad.

Nevertheless, Brentford’s owner Matthew Benham is not shy of backing Rosler’s judgement with serious cash.

The professional gambler’s punt on last night’s visitors could well pay off.

United, of course, also have plenty of young talent at their disposal.

Morgan, who oversaw the club’s work at Professional Development League level before assuming responsibility for first team affairs, has pledged not to shy away from thrusting its most capable graduates into the hurly burly of senior competition.

This, however, was an evening for experienced campaigners.

With neither of these two clubs enjoying much margin for error in the battle for the Championship, the opening exchanges were predictably cagey.

There were tenacious tackles and tracking down aplenty.

But, until Jamie Murphy ghosting run after a quarter-of-an-hour created a chance for Michael Doyle, precious little quality on show.

Trotta was inches away from connecting with Adam Forshaw’s early centre while, moments later, Kevin McDonald scrambled Lee Hodson’s shot away to safety after Donaldson had inexplicably been awarded a corner.

The sight of Murphy leaving Shaleum Logan trailing in his wake and delivering a cross which both Doyle and Dave Kitson tried to convert sparked United into life.

Simon Moore, the Brentford goalkeeper, parried McDonald’s rasping drive behind for a corner before thwarting Doyle again in similar fashion.

Brentford’s response came in the shape of a speculative effort from Donaldson which Long, Moore’s United’s counterpart, watched fly tamely into The Kop.

Referee Keith Stroud’s decision to award a 24th minute penalty against Long, which Trotta duly converted, stopped United in their tracks.

Donaldson, who had been brought down by the former England youth international after hunting down Jake Reeves’ long ball forward, continued to make few friends among the United ranks after becoming embroiled in a skirmish with McMahon.

The 29-year-old’s stock fell even lower when he again went to ground following a brush with Harry Maguire and was correctly cautioned for diving.

Kitson glanced a header wide from his colleague’s corner following another surge forward by Murphy as United, who introduced Jonathan Forte at half-time, looked to exploit their superiority from wide positions.

Toumani Diagouraga, a towering Frenchman, excelled in Brentford’s midfield became increasingly prominent after Craig’s 51st-minute exit and McMahon’s miss from the spot.

Kitson twice went close as United took charge while Moore produced an unorthodox block to deny McMahon whose 62nd minute flick teased the handball from Hodson which allowed Robson to equalise with an unstoppable penalty of his own.

Kitson moved United in front with a towering header after more sterling work by Murphy before the dismissal of Maguire, following a seemingly innocuous tangle with Donaldson who later saw red for clashing with McDonald after Sam Saunders’ spot-kick had been saved by Long.

Wright-Phillips plunged a dagger into United hearts, though, when he caressed the ball home at the death.

UNITED: Long 7, Maguire 7, Hill 6, Flynn 6 (Forte 46, 6), Doyle 7 (Robson 59, 6), Porter 6, McDonald 6, Kitson 7 (Higginbotham 74), Collins 6, Murphy 7, McMahon 7. Subs not used: Ironside, McFadzean, Whitehouse, Coyne.

BRENTFORD: Moore 7, Forshaw 6 (Saunders 68), Craig 6, Dean 6, Donaldson 7, Trotta 6 (Wright-Phillips 73), Logan 6, Hodson 7 (O‘Connor 66, 6), Diagourago 7, Reeves 7, Bidwell 6. Subs not used: El Alagui, Dallas, Gounet, Forrester.

ATTENDANCE: 23,431

Referee: K Stroud (Dorset)