Sheffield United verdict: Blades 2 Blackpool 0 as Billy Sharp eyes promotion

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This match, unlike the cut of his manager’s suit, could hardly be described as a classic, but it will prove an unforgettable moment for Billy Sharp.

The centre-forward and lifelong Sheffield United supporter cut an emotional figure after scoring his first goal since returning to Bramall Lane during the close season as Nigel Adkins’ side provided further evidence they could be competing at Championship level next term.

“There’s a long way to go yet but we’re getting some momentum,” Sharp said. “Personally speaking, I think we’ve got a great chance to go up this year.

“Credit to Blackpool, they made it difficult for us to begin with. But we played some good stuff and showed we can grind people down.”

Modern football, with its accent on money and quick-fix solutions, doesn’t do fairytales. Sharp, however, is an exception to the rule. The 29-year-old has enjoyed a sometimes awkward relationship with the club he grew up supporting, although, after two previous spells ended in disappointment, things promise to be different this time around.

Sharp, as he conceded afterwards, is now an older, wiser and more mature player, better equipped to strike a balance between his professional obligations and personal desires.

“I don’t think I savoured my goals here as much as I should have done in the past,” Sharp said. “I was young, naive and got caught up in the dream. This time I appreciate it more. I’m just happy to be back and I can handle it better now.”

Sightings of Nile Ranger are fast becoming more common than three-point hauls in Blackpool. Neil McDonald’s players have failed to win any of their previous 23 outings, with their last away win - over Wigan Athletic in April 2014 - 483 days ago.

“It’s a harsh lesson. I thought we defended much, much better and I thought we passed the ball much better.” McDonald said. “They got a lot, a lot of luck from the first goal which is a free-kick against Emmerson Boyce. He’s been barged off the ball.

“That was the difference between the two teams, one goal that shouldn’t have been allowed and one quality finish.”

Billy Sharp celebrates his goal. Pictures: Martyn Harrison

Billy Sharp celebrates his goal. Pictures: Martyn Harrison

Sharp acknowledged referee Darren Deadman could easily have ruled out his strike, which saw Chris Basham block Boyce’s run towards a Jay McEveley corner, for a foul but disagreed with McDonald’s overall assessment of the contest.

Blackpool, who had clearly worked on shape before making the journey to South Yorkshire, demonstrated superb discipline before the interval. But the second half, barring the odd brief scare, resembled a training-ground exercise of attack versus defence.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of United’s performance, however, was the manner in which they thought their way past opponents who, by McDonald’s own admission, had come to frustrate.

Marc McNulty’s impressive finish sealed victory as the hosts were rewarded for their patience and, following a dull opening, guile.

Mark McNulty scores

Mark McNulty scores

“Sparky is technically very good,” Sharp, who provided the pass which sent McNulty clear, said. “He’s not had much game time this season but he’s an experienced player himself. He knows he’s got to take his chance when it comes and he’s done that.”

It is difficult to disagree with much of what Karl Oyston says about football’s profligate attitude towards money. Unfortunately for the Blackpool chairman, the same can not be said for much of what he does.

There is something slightly pitiful about watching this famous institution, once home to greats such as Sir Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson, sliding meekly through the leagues.

Blackpool’s following made its feelings known in the 53rd minute - the chant of “Oyston Out” delivered with far more gusto than their team has mustered in recent seasons - although, for the first half at least, McDonald’s players made a pretty decent fist of things here.

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United, now fourth in the table after recording their third straight victory in the league, initially struggled to find the tiny pockets of space which existed between Blackpool’s midfield and defensive lines.

David Edgar  tussles with Henry Cameron

David Edgar tussles with Henry Cameron

There were too many sideways movements and square balls. The second half, however, saw them go about their business with greater purpose, precision and zip.

Blackpool’s David Ferguson, who had earlier gone close with a long-range attempt, struck the woodwork soon after the re-start, but from that moment on it was one way traffic, with Conor Sammon inexplicably turning Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s centre wide before Sharp and then McNulty pounced.

Brad Potts forced Mark Howard to save during the closing stages but United were not to be denied.

Sheffield united: Howard 7, Freeman 8, Basham 7, Sharp 8, Baxter 8, Sammon 7 (McNulty 57), McEveley 7, Campbell-Ryce 8 (J Wallace 71), Adams 7 (Woolford 57), K Wallace 7, Edgar 7. Not used: Reed, Higdon, Long, McFadzean.

Blackpool: Letheren 6, Ferguson 7, McAlister 6, Robertson 6, Potts 6, Cullen 6 (Thomas 79), Cameron 6 (Redshaw 68), Oliver 6 (Cubero 79), Aldred 6, Boyce 6, Osayi-Samuel 6. Not used: Jones, Boney, Dunne, Higham.

Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambs).

Attendance: 20,199.

Nigel Adkins acknowledges Conor Sammon

Nigel Adkins acknowledges Conor Sammon