Brentford 2Â Sheffield United 3 '“Â James Shield's Match Report as Chris Wilder's hunch comes up trumps at Griffin park
Thomas Frank and his employers like to crunch the numbers.
Chris Wilder, despite applying plenty of science, still prefers to rely on a hunch.
It was during the first-half of this match at Griffin Park, ultimately settled by Leon Clarke's second goal of the season,Â when Sheffield United's manager first began to suspect it would go his team's way.
Brentford caused them some problems, particularly when Romaine Sawyers equalised after Oliver Norwood's superbÂ finish and Ezro Konsa's own goal had put the visitors in control. But it was United's sheer bloody-mindedness, despite suffering the worst possible start, which enabled them to record the victory which lifts them to fourth in the Championship.
Brentford's use of analytics and statistics has captured the imagination since being unveiled following MatthewÂ Benham's takeover four years ago. But United are pioneers in their own way too. Attacking wing-backs and over-lapping centre-halves should, according to conventional tactical wisdom, be a recipe for chaos. But their position onÂ their cusp of the automatic promotion places, two points behind second-placed Leeds who travel to South Yorkshire this weekend, confirms that for the most part it works.
So did the experiment which saw Conor Washington make only his second start since leaving Queens Park Rangers inÂ August. The Northern Ireland international has appeared a peripheral figure at times, either introduced during the fagÂ end of a fixture or sometimes not at all. But his energy and willingness to chase lost causes gnawed away at theÂ confidence of opponents who have now lost six of their last seven outings.
Sergi Canos, the former Barcelona and Liverpool attacker, posed a threat with his balletic footwork. But it was powerÂ and purpose, not poise, that Brentford required as they took too many touches and too many passes after fallingÂ behind. Jack O'Connell and John Egan, who have both swapped West London for Bramall Lane since Wilder'sÂ appointment two years ago, possess those qualities in abundance. Little wonder the 51-year-old described them bothÂ as bargains on the eve of this game.
In the event, it was United's failure to extend their lead by a keeping a foot on Brentford's throat which provided theÂ hosts with a glimmer of hope when Sawyers' good fortune put the outcome back in the balance.
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But Clarke finally squeezed the life out of Frank's men when he caressed a low drive past Daniel Bentley during theÂ closing stages. The 33-year-old might have applied the coup-de-grace but Washington, dragging several BrentfordÂ players out of position, deserved to share the limelight.
Wilder's response to United's draw against Rotherham three days earlier, when an added time equaliser preventedÂ them from taking maximum points, came in the shape of a new-look midfield and attack although, had George BaldockÂ not been taken ill on the eve of the game, it was possible to changes could have stretched into defence.
Washington's introduction at the expense of Billy Sharp confirmed suspicions that United would attempt toÂ harass Brentford's defence into submission. But their own rearguard was the first to be breached during an explosive start which alsoÂ saw John Lundstram, the second of Wilder's two changes, hit the crossbar and Norwood produce a memorable finishÂ after Konsa had turned the ball into his own net.
Although the midfielder's long-range strike made wonderful viewing for the raucous travelling support, the comedy ofÂ errors played out in front of them only minutes earlier most definitely did not.
Egan, appearing against his foirmer club for the first time since leaving the capital four months ago, was urging DeanÂ Henderson to come and collect the ball when Neal Maupay, exploiting the confusion, darted in and fired home.Â United's goalkeeper had clearly read the situation differently but, after failing to keep-out the Frenchman's shot, choseÂ not to debate the matter with his centre-half.
Maupay's effort provoked a reaction every bit as furious as the look Egan cast his young goalkeeper. Indeed, hadÂ David McGoldrick not seen a shot on the turn scrambled clear by Bentley, Wilder's men could have entered theÂ interval boasting a more comfortable lead than the slender advantage theu enjoyed.
O'Connell's refusal to celebrate after appearing to divert the ball home owed more to the fact Konsa was credited withÂ the final touch than it did the Liverpudlian's respect for his previous employers. So when Norwood took a touch and,Â after calculating the perfect trajectory flighting a long-range attempt over Bentley's head, O'Connell made up for hisÂ earlier low key celebration by darting nearly the full length of the pitch.
McGoldrick suffered more frustration when another attempt, this time at the beginning of the second period, wasÂ palmed away to safety just as the ball seemed destined to find its target.
Although there were question marks about Henderson's part in Brentford's opener, he was powerless to prevent theirÂ second when Sawyers' strike flew past him after hitting John Fleck. But Clarke, after glancing a header wide moments after being introduced, ensured United secured the win their performance deserved.