A match which, at one stage, appeared in danger of becoming a non-event ended-up producing five goals.
And, much to the relief of their manager Nigel Adkins, Sheffield United claimed the lion’s share as they recorded a hard-fought, nervous and ultimately entertaining victory over fellow League One promotion hopefuls Rochdale.
Che Adams broke the deadlock after profiting from Jose Baxter’s threaded pass before Peter Vincenti, the visitors’ captain, equalised from the penalty spot following Matt Done’s clumsy challenge. Adams, who later missed a chance to claim his hat-trick, pounced again soon after following some fine work by Billy Sharp but Rochdale, who grew in stature as the second-half progressed, clawed themselves back on level terms courtesy of Lewis Alessandra’s scruffy but deserved attempt.
With injury forcing Adkins to reshuffle his options, Chris Basham started alongside Collins at the heart of United’s defence while captain Jay McEveley returned at full-back. The hosts made a promising start - Matt Done testing Josh Lillis’ handling after cutting in from the right after two minutes - before losing momentum. Perhaps they had taken their manager’s pre-match prediction that patience might be a virtue a little too literally? McEveley, Paul Coutts and Done attempted to inject some impetus when, after a quarter-of-an-hour, they worked the ball forward smoothly but Stefan Scougall could not make the type of connection which could have made a well constructed move count.
With both teams clearly wary of the threat each other posed, the early exchanges were full of good intentions rather than quality. Until, that was, Baxter produced a defence-splitting pass to send Adams through and allow the youngster to slide home 15 minutes before half-time. Baxter was instrumental in ensuring United’s lead lasted for longer than a few moments when he produced a superb diving block to prevent Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s shot from reaching Mark Howard on his 100th start for the hosts. Ultimately, though, it counted for nothing as Vincenti, in the 38th minute, duly levelled from the spot following a foul by Done. Nevertheless, Adams duly restored United’s lead when he showed good strength to hold off a defender and prod beyond the advancing Lillis soon after. Billy Sharp provided the pass.
With McEveley taking a blow to the ankle just before Oliver Langford called a halt to proceedings and Scougall still suffering the effects of an earlier challenge, Kieran Wallace and Harrison McGahey were both introduced when the second-half got underway. Jim McNulty denied Done what would have been an almost certain goal when he hacked the ball away at the vital moment before Kieron Freeman returned the favour with an even better interception at the other end. As the half unfolded, so Rochdale began to take a grip on the game and equalised in the 73rd minute when Allessandra’s effort crossed the line via Howard’s outstretched palm. Rather than crumble, though, United responded with a goal of their own when Collins headed home Baxter’s 75th minute corner. Adams hooked a long-range shot over the crossbar as Adkins’ players went in search of a fourth before being denied the match ball when Lillis produced an excellent close range save in added time.
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman, Basham, Coutts (Reed 74), Sharp, Baxter, Done, Collins, Scougall (K Wallace 46), McEveley (McGahey 46), Adams. Not used: Wooolford, Sammon, Campbell-Ryce, Long.
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, McNulty, Lancashire, Vincenti, Lund, Alessandra, McDermott (Noble-Lazarus 52), Mendez-Laing, Cannon (Allen 34), Kennedy (Tanser 70). Not used: Eastham, Barry-Murphy, Musangu, Bunney.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands),