Match Report: Bradford City 2 Sheffield United 3 - Blades stave off second half Bantams fightback in friendly
After what was described as a "gentle leg stretch" against non-league opposition and a not so friendlyÂ friendly with Maritimo in Portugal, this was the first real opportunity to gauge Sheffield United's progressÂ ahead of the new season.
The surroundings were familiar and the opposition was too, although Bradford City have changed beyond all recognition since the days they slugged it out with Chris Wilder's side in the third tier of English football.
Still, as the United manager acknowledged afterwards, last night's fixture pitted his team against opponents with the same approach and physicality they are likely to encounter in the Championship next term. So, with that in mind, he will have been encouraged by both the performance and the result as United maintained their unblemished start to the schedule.
With events away from the pitch casting a shadow over United's preparations - Simon Moore, the former Cardiff City goalkeeper, appears destined for West Bromwich Albion - the most intriguing development on it was the performance of David McGoldrick.
While his fellow trialist Luke Steele began the evening on the bench, McGoldrick was named in United's starting eleven and seized his opportunity with an inventive display before being withdrawn during the closing stages. Indeed, the 30-year-old was responsible for creating the opportunity which saw them double their lead after John Fleck's opener. Although Wilder is still determined, and for good reason, to bolster his attack with two experienced and prolific centre-forwards, on the evidence of his cameo against City,
McGoldrick boasts an excellent chance of earning a contract at Bramall Lane. Steele enjoyed fewer chances to press his own claims but, from United's perspective, that was no bad thing. However, the former Barnsley goalkeeper will have been disappointed to concede when substitute Jordan Gibson equalised for City before Billy Sharp's deflected but deserved winner.
United's habit of missing gilt-edged opportunities had been Wilder's only source of frustration during their recent outings against Stocksbridge Park Steels and the Primeira Liga. Finishes from Fleck and Leon Clarke, which ensured Wilder's team had established a commanding lead by the interval, demonstrated they have learnt the lessons of those games. But the two goalscorers were not the only players to impress as United controlled the opening 45 minutes of their meeting with Michael Collins' side.
Despite the low key atmosphere, the trip to City was a potentially pivotal moment in McGoldrick's career. Having left Ipswich Town at the end of last season, the much-travelled attacker now finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being without a club. Although injuries hastened McGoldrick's departure from Portman Road, there are no such concerns about his ability or nous. Wilder, who has been assured the Nottingham based player's fitness issues were caused by the daily commute to Suffolk, nodded with appreciation on more than one occasion as he picked the right pass or changed the tempo of a move with a deceptive turn of pace. It was exactly this acceleration which, after Jack Payne had cut United's lead, saw him create enough space to shoot only to see his effort rebound off the foot of a post.
Although United were comfortable for the most part, the contest was a dispiriting experience for City until Payne's 53rd minute strike. Forty-seven minutes earlier, Fleck had beaten Richard O'Donnell with a perfectly placed effort after Ryan Leonard and George Baldock left the hosts' defence trailing before, in the 34th, Clarke doubled United's advantage following an excellent exchange between McGoldrick and Daniel Lafferty.
Payne's goal, a low shot from 20 yards out, coincided with City's best spell of the fixture and breathed new life into their work. Gibson levelled at the near post in the 81st minute but, only three later, Sharp restored United's advantage from inside the penalty area.
Bradford City: O'Donnell, Riley (Colville 77), Wood (Gibson 46), Chicksen (Hudson 80), Kilgallon (Knight-Percival 64), O'Connor (Isherwood 73), Wright (Peters 80), Akpan (Devine 68), Wyke (Miller 8, Bruenker 69), Payne (Patrick 69), Seedorf (Robinson 60).
Sheffield United: Henderson (Steele 62), Baldock (Freeman 62), Fleck (Basham 62), O'Connell, L Evans (Holmes 62), Clarke (Sharp 62), Leonard, McGoldrick (Lavery 77), Stearman (Stevens 62), Duffy (Slater 77),
Lafferty (Norrington-Davies 77). Not used: Eastwood.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham.