Sheffield United suffered a first ever defeat to Rochdale when they lost at Spotland this afternoon.
Second-half goals from substitutes Peter Vincenti and Grant Holt ended the South Yorkshire club’s seven match winning sequence against Keith Hill’s side and, in the process, dealt a major blow to their hopes of reaching the play-offs too.
United could - and but for a series of excellent saves from Josh Lillis would - have made sure of the points long before Vincenti claimed his eighth of the season and first since October. The former Stevenage midfielder broke his four month duck in memorable fashion, curling the ball home from the edge of the penalty area before Holt extended Rochdale’s advantage.
The hosts, however, were indebted to Lillis for ensuring they were still in the game by the time Vincenti pounced with Che Adams and Billy Sharp among those he denied.
Nevertheless, given the state of play in the League One table, the fact United’s performance deserved better will be of no consolation for manager Nigel Adkins and his staff.
At this stage, it is all about collecting points. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Something United’s supporters were quick to emphasise during the closing stages as they delivered their own x-rated verdict.
Despite the return of Neill Collins from injury, Adkins named the same back three which had performed well during last weekend’s victory over Port Vale.
But David Edgar, Chris Basham and captain Jay McEveley had little to do until just before the interval as United looked to press from the first whistle. Billy Sharp had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty waved away by referee Mark Heywood after wriggling beyond Nial Canavan while John Brayford launched a series of positive runs along the right flank. Che Adams saw a shot blocked following some more tenacious work, this time by Martyn Woolford, before Sharp yested Josh Lillis’ handling with an angled drive.
Lillis excelled himself twice in the space of five minutes as United continued to dominate. First, Cuvelier saw an effort turned over the crossbar after meeting Adams’ square pass towards the edge of the box. Then, after a quarter-of-an-hour, Adams suffered exactly the same fate after Chris Basham had flicked the ball into a post following yet anotger skirmish.
Inevitably, the longer they survived, the more Rochdale’s confidence grew although George Long remained relatively untroubled before the interval.
Adkins had warned about the poor condition of the playing surface during his pre-match media briefing yesterday and, in the 32nd minute, it claimed its first victim when Martyn Woolford jarred his left ankle. Adams should have done better when he found himself in space inside the penalty area but failed to beat Lillis and, thanks in no small part to the Rochdale goalkeeper, the score remained deadlocked at the break.
Rochdale, understandably deciding that a change of dynamic was required, introduced Vincenti and Grant Holt for the beginning of the second period.
Nevertheless, a familiar patterm quickly emerged with United only a final pass away from taking the lead when Ryan Flynn, Brayford and Matt Done combined before the ball failed to find Sharp.
Vincenti joined Canavan and Matthew Lund in Heywood’s notebook when he tripped Brayford on the edge of the box. The resulting set-piece, however, came to nothing. Likewise when Adams produced a superb defence splitting pass which sent Sharp racing through before the usually ruthless centre-forward inexplicably failed to shoot. His frustration was compounded seconds later when, in the 62nd minute, Lillis got a hand to the ball as he prepared to roll it home into the net.
Remarkably, in the 67th minute, Rochdale took the lead when Vicenti’s shot curled past Long and inside the far post. United thought they had secured an almost instantaneous equaliser but Lillis batted away an Adams shot which bounced back up off the turf.
With 10 minutes left, Holt found the back of the net from Michael Rose’s corner. There were ugly scenes in the away end as sections of United’s following rounded on Adkins’ players and the former Wigan Athletic striker before unravelling the frost covers which hugged the side of the pitch.
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, McNulty, Eastham, Lund (Bennett 90), Canavan, Mendez-Laing (Holt 46), Allen, Rose, Bunney (Vincenti 46), Henderson. Not used: Vincenti, Alessandra, Noble-Lazarus, Collis, Camps.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Basham, Edgar, McEveley, Flynn (Scougall 75), Cuvelier (Coutts 75), Reed, Woolford (Done 32), Adams, Sharp.
Not used: Howard, Collins, Campbell-Ryce, Calvert-Lewin.
Referee: Mark Heywood (West Yorkshire).