Stefan Scougall’s first goal for Sheffield United, added to Ryan Flynn’s early strike, was enough to defeat Shrewsbury Town 2-0 at Bramall Lane this afternoon.
Sheffield United’s players and coaching staff alike had made no attempt to disguise the significance of this meeting with Shrewsbury Town before kick-off
Collins, again wearing the captain’s armband in Doyle’s absence, quickly entered into the spirit of things with a thundering first-minute tackle on Mills while the visitors, despite making several forays forward during the early exchanges, betrayed their nerves when a mix-up involving Jacobson and Goldson nearly handed Flynn a clear run on goal 60 seconds later.
The Scot, among United’s most consistent performers of late, was in the thick if things again soon after when he exchanged passes with Brayford before the full-back, overlapping towards the by-line, delivered a dangerous centre which only just evaded the onrushing Baxter and Scougall at the far post.
In truth, win, lose or draw, the fate of neither team’s battle for League One survival was going to be decided at Bramall Lane earlier today.
But a palpable sense of relief engulfed the stadium when United took a 12th minute lead courtesy of Flynn’s cool finish.
McGinn and Scougall combined well and when the latter slid the ball across Weale’s area, Baxter could not connect but Flynn shaped his body perfectly and duly dispatched the ball into the back of Shrewsbury’s net.
It was his fourth of the season and first since his winner against Aston Villa last month. McGinn, again demonstrating his sound technique in midfield, insisted before this game that Clough’s squad possess the ability to achieve safety - but admitted that no side is ever too good to go down.
Clough’s charges continued to go about the business with a steely resolve and attention to detail which suggested those words had resonated in the dressing room so, when SCOUGALL doubled their advantage in the 18th minute, it came as no great surprise.
The same, however, could not be said of Weale who appeared to be deceived by the trajectory of the youngster’s long-range shot which duly sneaked between his outstretched palm and the right hand post.
Howard, preferred to Long between the posts after impressing at Craven Cottage, collected a routine Woods cross in the 33rd minute but, in truth, had enjoyed a relatively low key start to his afternoon until Mills prodded Parry’s pass into the side-netting 60 seconds later.
United, though, immediately wrestled back the initiative when Baxter half-volleyed over the crossbar after taking up a position near the penalty spot.
Coady bravely put his face in the way of a McAllister shot as Shrewsbury, who also forced Harris to intervene when Parry primed to shoot, asked questions of United’s rearguard just before the break.
Despite the scoreline, Clough cut an animated figure as a flurry of careless passes threatened to give Shrewsbury a glimmer of hope.
Murphy soothed his manager’s temper, however, when he cut inside Woods before sending a piercing shot just the wrongside of Weale’s crossbar.
Nevertheless, despite enjoying plenty of possession, there was another sign that United’s bid to claim three points was not going to be smooth when a defensive lapse - Collins later castigated Maguire for leaving him exposed - presented Taylor with a sight of goal only for him to miscue badly from a tight but not impossible angle.
Howard shepherded a powerful attempt from Eaves wide as Shrewsbury continued to improve although, in truth, their renaissance owed as much to the fact that United’s intensity levels had fallen as it did the visitors’ prowess.
As the weather worsened - players now having to contend with heavy rain as well as driving wind - Baxter thrashed a free-kick against the Shrewsbury wall.
Collins was alert to the danger when Parry looked to ghost into position after a patient Shrewsbury move.
Murphy tried to find Miller on the edge of Weale’s area but the substitute, who was later flagged offside after seizing upon Baxter’s pass, could not control.
Weale clawed Murphy’s attempted chip to safety and Flynn drilled over the crossbar after creating enough space in a crowded penalty area to unleash his shot.
Substitute Porter had an 88th minute ‘goal’ ruled-out for offside before referee Haines called time on United’s first league win this year.