Another game and another compelling piece of evidence that this Sheffield United team is learning what it takes to survive and prosper in League One.
Matt Done’s first-half goal, his second in as many matches, proved enough to secure a narrow but ultimately deserved victory over Peterborough following an enthralling contest at Bramall Lane laden with fine play and scoring chances.
Although United have now won four consecutive matches in the competition - a feat they have not achieved since August last year - the maturity of Chris Wilder’s side is even more impressive than its recent results. Peterborough are supremely talented opponents and well-equipped to challenge for promotion next year. But, after Done had applied the finishing touches to a superb move involving Billy Sharp, Mark Duffy and Kieron Freeman, they were out-thought and, crucially, out-fought.
“We have to give credit to the opposition and I’m so glad we got this game out of the way because they are a ridiculously dangerous team to deal with,” Wilder said. “So, whether we deal with it with pace or with good defending or goalkeeping, you just have to make sure you do it. And very I’m glad that we did. Everybody put a shift in and wanted to get a result for the club.”
As Wilder acknowledged, there were times when United were forced to mount a rearguard action as Peterborough searched for a route back into the game. George Moncur, who joined the visitors on loan from Barnsley last month, might possess a staccato running style but is delightfully fluent in possession while Marcus Maddison carries a huge threat out wide. United, particularly during the build-up to Done’s effort, produced some exhilarating stuff themselves and, Wilder admitted, should have stretched their lead during the closing stages. But, after overseeing a major reconstruction exercise following his appointment during the close season, the 48-year-old’s squad now boasts a nasty streak at the other end of the pitch too. Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Jake Wright both made a series of brave interceptions while fellow centre-half Jack O’Connell was described by Wilder as “an absolute beast.” When Peterborough did punch a hole through United’s backline, they found goalkeeper Simon Moore in superb form.
Sharp, Freeman and Daniel Lafferty had all gone close before Done, who earlier in the week had spoken of his delight at being restored to attacking duties, turned home at the near post. Moore produced excellent saves to deny Paul Taylor and substitute Gwion Edwards while Luke McGee, who had excelled himself to thwart Done moments before the United striker broke the deadlock, did well to prevent Stefan Scougall scoring from long distance after replacing Daniel Lafferty.
Done should have extended the hosts’ advantage but chipped wide of the post after beating McGee to the ball while former Sheffield Wednesday youngster Caolan Lavery, one of 12 new players Wilder has signed since taking charge in May, made his debut as a late substitute.
“I thought we did well, created some really good openings and dug-in when we had to,” Wilder said after United climbed to sixth. “But there’s still an awful lot of work to do and a long, long way to go yet.”
tenacity and tactics
Duffy had revealed earlier in the week that United would look to exploit their superior experience against a Peterborough outfit which travelled north having scored 20 goals in its first 10 outings this term. They proved as good as the midfielder’s word with a change of shape during the interval - Wilder later revealing Lafferty had been withdrawn for tactical rather than fitness reasons - providing United with greater menace when they broke upfield.
“Possibly Peterborough’s strength is also their weakness,” Wilder said. “Because of their movement, they leave themselves open and we had to capitalise on that.”
A proper defence
Good goalkeepers make big saves at important moments and, as United ended a run of nine league games without a clean sheet, Moore did exactly that. Ebanks-Landell, Wright and O’Connell also put their bodies on the line when required. “We want to defend properly,” Wilder said. “We weren’t flimsy and lads were ready to get their mates out of the cart after a mistake.”