Sheffield United stretched their unbeaten run in League One competition to eight games with this comprehensive victory over Port Vale.
Ethan Ebanks-Landell pounced for the second time in as many matches to break the deadlock following a dominant opening spell from Chris Wilder’s team before converting again on the stroke of half-time.
Mark Duffy and substitute Stefan Scougall followed suit as the hosts hammered home their superiority against Bruno Ribeiro’s side. Vale had travelled to South Yorkshire in fourth place but, quite simply, were no match for the hosts.
United’s.first two goals came via the most unlikely of routes. Signed ostensibly to stop goals rather than scoring them, Ebanks-Landell has been deadly in the opposition’s penalty area during his last two games. After claiming a last gasp equaliser at Fleetwood Town earlier this month, the centre-half proved just as clinical here.
First, the 23-year-old powered a header past Jak Alnwick following John Fleck’s corner before acrobatically turning home after Paul Coutts’ centre had caused confusion in Vale’s box.
It spoke volumes about United’s dominance of the opening period that, despite leading 2-0 at the interval, they will have been disappointed not to have put the contest beyond reach.
Vale presented more of a challenge in the second but only just. Duffy stretched United’s advantage after Billy Sharp had seen an attempt blocked on the line while United’s captain later had a ‘goal’ ruled-out for offside. It was the fourth time Wilder’s team had been denied by an assistant referee’s flag bit no matter as Duffy and Scougall were later on target. The latter, who stands less than five feet six inches tall, headed home Chris Hussey’s assist. A real ‘I was there’ moment while John Fleck’s performance in the engine room means Chris Basham is by no means certain of an instant recall when he returns from suspension against Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday.
There were no surprises on United’s team sheet. There were few surprises with how the early exchanges of this fixture unfolded too with Sharp and Matt Done combining well in the first minute to forge a half chance before Ethan Ebanks-Landell produced a thunderous tackle to thwart an attack at the other end.
With both teams intent on pressing the ball with a high degree of intensity, possession was often surrendered in and around the midfield. But, until Anthony Grant broke clear in the 17th minute, United were more dangerous going forward although Daniel Lafferty’s delivery from wide positions let him down early on.
Mark Duffy, by contrast, has emerged as a major threat from set-piece situations in recent weeks and, with Chris Hussey named among the substitutes, he was responsible for carving the afternoon’s first real chance. An inswinging free-kick left Alnwick unsure whether to stick or twist but Jack O’Connell had read the trajectory almost perfectly and was inches away from heading home.
Having started the season on the transfer list, Kieron Freeman’s rise to prominence has been one of the stories of the season so far. After O’Connell’s near miss, the wing-back demonstrated why Wilder has chosen to withdraw him from sale by nearly bundling Done’s flick home at the far post. Thirty-seconds later, Freeman darted back to produce a goal-saving tackle which denied Grant.
Nevertheless, Vale could have no complaints when United took the lead courtesy of another Ebanks-Landell header. The defender, on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, climbed highest in the penalty area to head home.
Duffy fired just wide as United sensed blood and, with Vale struggling to clear their heads, though they had extended their lead when Fleck beat Alnwick from the edge of the box. Wilder’s players celebrated but the assistant referee deemed the ball had touched Sharp, standing in an offside position, before hitting the back of the net and the effort was disallowed. Fleck went close again moments later but, on this occasion, Alnwick was able to scramble clear. Alnwick was called into action again when Lafferty, peeling off the back of his marker, headed Freeman’s inviting cross towards goal.
Sharp’s path towards Done’s pass, which fizzed across the six yard box, was blocked by a defender at the start of the second-half but United increased their lead in the 65th minute. Fleck surged forward and, after pausing the weigh-up his options, slipped an angled pass to Sharp whose effort was blocked on the line by Ben Purkiss. Duffy, though, was on hand to blast home from close-range in the 63rd minute before Scougall grabbed a fourth 21 minutes later.
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, O’Connell, Sharp, Done (Scougall 82), Wright, Coutts, Freeman, Ebanks-Landell, Duffy (Chapman 73), Lafferty (Hussey 70). Not used: Lavery, Ramsdale, Brown, Whiteman.
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Streete, Knops, Foley (Kiko 81), Paterson (Turner 67), Smith, Jones, Amoros (Pereira 59), Grant, Hart. Not used: Mac-Intosch, Cicilia, Mbamba, Santos.
Referee: Mark Heywood (West Yorkshire).