James Shield's Big Match Breakdown: The story of today's game against Blackburn Rovers
Sheffield United will enter the New Year fourth in the Championship table thanks to Billy Sharp's brace and a late David McGoldrick strike following a match which produced three goals and two red cards.
Key Moment: Chris Basham's sending-off changed the dynamic of a game which, even before Anthony Taylor'sÂ
decision to show the defender a second yellow card for handball, had struggled for both quality and rhythm. But,Â
given the official's actions during the first 50 minutes of the game, Basham's departure was no surprise. Indeed, mostÂ
people in a crowd angered by Taylor's handling of the fixture, probably suspected a red was going to be produced atÂ
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some point. Another one followed when Richie Smallwood also walked before Billy Sharp netted twice and DavidÂ
McGoldrick put the game beyond the opposition's reach.
Key Man: Sharp has now scored 16 times this season, disproving theories he no longer has the punch to troubleÂ
oppositiuon defences. The centre-forward initially looked set to endure a frustrating afternoon but his work-rate paid aÂ
handsome dividend during an eventful second-half and he eventually departed the pitch to another deservedÂ
standing ovation. Sharp also scored twice when United triumphed 2-0 at Ewood Park earlier this term.
How the Game was Won: Sharp's brace, before McGoldrick also pounced,Â is the obvious answer. But the real reasonÂ
behind United's victory was pure persistence. They were not at their best and staring down the barrelÂ of a gun whenÂ
Basham received his marching orders. But they kept plugging away, trusted in their game plan and refused to changeÂ
their shape. It demonstrated not only Chris Wilder's belief in his system, but that his players share it too. And thatÂ
Referee Watch: Taylor was taking charge of his first Championship fixture of the season. And it showed. The PremierÂ
league official brought a top-flight mentality with him to Bramall Lane, punishing any hint of physical contact betweenÂ
the players but allowing some obvious theatrics to go unpunished. It meant, even when he did get a decision right,Â
the crowd immediately roared its disapproval. Both managers seemed less than impressed with aspects of Taylor'sÂ
decision-making, which meant the fixture struggled to gather any sort of momentum. His decision to send-off BashamÂ
for handling the ball in the wall looked very, very harsh. Or, to put it another way, wrong. Smallwood's dismissal easedÂ
some of the pressure on United though and they finished emphatic winners.
Summary: With Rovers making seven changes to the team which had faced Leeds on Boxing Day, only one of whichÂ
was enforced, a fast start from United could have exploited any poor lines of communication within the visitors' ranks.Â
After a fractious opening period, caused in part by Taylor's overly-fussy approach, Wilder's men began to inject a littleÂ
extra tempo into their play and caused Rovers more problems as a result. But United's hopes of applying moreÂ
concerted periods of pressure were wrecked immediately after the interval when Basham walked and robbed them ofÂ
their most attack-minded centre-half. Although Wilder refused to change United's shape, he did give their play aÂ
different dynamic by introducing Paul Coutts. Sharp's strike came after Rovers had also been reduced to 10 men,Â
following Smallwood's challenge on the United captain. He netted again soon after before McGoldrick also scored.