Alan Woodward and Kell Brook were introduced to the Bramall Lane crowd before this afternoon’s League One fixture against Gillingham.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Alcock, Wallace, Doyle, Murphy, Scougall, McNulty, Collins, B Davies, McGahey, McEveley. Substitutes: Harris, Basham, Flynn, Porter, Higdon, Reed, Turner.
GILLINGHAM: Bywater, Martin, Egan, Hause, Loft, McDonald, Lingazi, Pritchard, C Davies, Dickenson, Hoyte. Substitutes: Fish, Hessenthaler, McGlashan, Morris, German, Norris, Dack.
REFEREE: K Wright
How Nigel Clough, the Sheffield United manager, must wish he had a player of Woodward’s skill at his disposal now despite emphasising the present squad’s quality on the eve of today’s game. The presence of Brook, meanwhile, served to remind Clough’s request for the hosts to pack a real punch.
They nearly landed a telling blow in the opening seconds of the contest when Jamie Murphy, outstripping Gavin Hoyte down Gillingham’s right flank, was inches away from finding the onrushing Marc McNulty with a low, driven cross.
Murphy, who has shown signs of recapturing last season’s form in recent weeks, continued to test the defender’s resolve with a series of darting runs. But it was two route one balls, from Ben Davies and James Wallace respectively, which kept the visitors on the back foot during a one-sided start. McEveley made contact with the latter but could not direct his header on target.
With all of those opportunities coming inside the opening three minutes, United should really have taken the lead in the fourth. Davies robbed Kortrney Hause of possession and powered forward. McNulty had taken up an excellent position just beyond the penalty spot but the former Derby County utility elected to shoot from an acute angle rather than pass. Stephen Bywater, previously of Sheffield Wednesday, proved equal to the task.
Peter Taylor, the Gillingham manager, cut an agitated figure on the touchline.
But, around the 10 minute mark, his team applied some pressure of their own.
Cody McDonald forced Craig Alcock to make a last ditch tackle as he weaved his way into Mark Howard’s area while Josh Pritchard would have been clean through had been able to control his colleague’s lofted ship over McEveley’s shoulder.
United replied with a series of forays forward but the intensity was beginning to disappear from the match.
McEveley, in the 18th minute, spotted Davies making a run towards Bywater’s far post but his centre spiralled out of play. Just.
Wallace tried his luck from long-range soon after and, although Bywater was beaten, his shot flew just past the top corner of his net.
Gillingham were creaking again with Alcock and Doyle, who later drew a fine save from the on-loan goalkeeper, both doing well to regain the ball before failing to produce a killer pass.
Armine Linganzi was cautioned in the 29th minute for tripping Scougall, who turned his marker with a deft twist and turn of pace, right on the edge of the box but Davies’ set-piece hit the wall.
As Murphy’s influence waned, so Scougall’s grew and he did well to ride two heavy tackles during a run across the area during the closing stages of the half before failing to read McNulty’s return.
The young Scottish striker underlined his potential by ghosting away from Gillingham’s two central defenders but Joe Martin bravely flung himself in front of the resulting shot.
Half-timne: United 0 Gillingham 0
--United should have begun the second-half in front.
McNulty’s header was expertly saved by Bywater at the near post during added time before, during the ensuing scramble, Linganzi hacked McGahey’s follow-up off the line.
Davies found himself in acres of space as United mounted a counter-attack but his centre, towards McNulty, was again cut-out.
That prompted a howl of anguish from Clough as he did a series of pogo jumps in the technical area. There was more frustration when, in the 50th minute, McNulty saw a shot blocked on the line. The Scottish striker skipped beyond his marker and then rounded Bywater before turning full circle to face the goal. His low drive seemed destined to nestle in the back of the net but Callum Davies, somehow, was able to keep the ball out despite being off balance. It was a superb contribution from the Gillingham defender.
Murphy won a corner just before the hour but again Gillingham survived a goalmouth skirmish when Scougall miscued in front of The Kop.
Bywater, sensing another long half was in the offing, took an age over his goal-kick before tipping Wallace’s header over the crossbar following Alcock’s deep cross.
Bywater excelled himself in the 66th minute when Wallace released Scougall whose close-range attempt was palmed clear.
There was a triple substitution in the 70th minute. United sent on Flynn and Harris for Davies and McEveley while Gillingham withdrew McDonald with Norris entering the fray.
McNulty struck the foot of the post after directing his shot across Bywater following some excellent work by Wallace. It was his final contribution before making way for Michael Higdon who, moments later, saw a header hit the woodwork.
With seven minutes remaining, there was a breakthrough.
Inexplicably, though, it was Gillingham who scored.
Norris unleashed a fierce angled shot which beat Howard and went in off the underside of the crossbar. There was stunned silence throughout the ground as, even the Gillingham supporters, came to terms with the fact they were in front.
Higdon, deservedly, drew United level with three minutes remaining. Murphy and Alcock exchanged passes and the latter, spotting Higdon’s run, placed the ball in exactly the right place for him to slide home at the near post.
Then, with only seconds remaining, Murphy ensured United claimed the three points their efforts deserved when he rounded his marker and caressed the ball past the onrushing Bywater from another tight angle, sparking delerious scenes of celebration inside Bramall Lane.