Match report: Sheffield United 1 Bury 0
It was hopelessly one-sided, the pressure was relentless and, at times, resembled a training ground exercise of attack versus defence.
But it took Sheffield United over an hour-and-a-half of football to find a way past opponents who finished the evening with nine men.
Managerless Bury, despite having Jacob Mellis and Greg Leigh sent-off for fouls either side of the interval, defended manfully as they came within a whisker of avoiding a ninth straight League One defeat.
But, given the sheer scale of United’s dominance and amount of pressure they applied, it seemed like justice when Ethan Ebanks-Landell scored the only goal of the contest deep into added time.
The centre-half, scoring for the fourth time since arriving on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers, smashed home with only moments remaining to ensure his team remained second in the table and unbeaten in 14 league games.
Speaking beforehand, Wilder had warned this was a potentially dangerous fixture.
With Bury, now without a victory in 13 outings, it quickly became a test of patience too. United passed, pressed and probed. But, given the visitors’ understandable caution, struggled to find the pass which would unlock their packed defence.
So perhaps it was fitting that the breakthrough came via a thunderous strike, unleashed by Ebanks-Landell, which nearly broke the back of the net.
Bury chairman Stewart Day cited the need for a “change of direction” as the reason behind David Flitcroft’s departure last week.
Flitcroft’s sacking, which came 18 months after he led the visitors to promotion and only six after guiding them to safety in League One, came following a drop in form which saw them enter last night’s contest 18th in the table.
Wilder’s side approached the fixture in much better fettle.
But citing Flitcroft’s demise as an example of how quickly circumstances can change, insisted complacency could prove costly against opponents who completed the ‘double’ over United last term.
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United’s problem was not a lack of urgency so much as precision. And, as frustration levels grew inside Bramall Lane, invention too until Ebanks-Landell pounced.
Bury, with Chris Brass and Ryan Kidd now in temporary charge, possess plenty of talented individuals.
But, as their performances en route to South Yorkshire demonstrate, have struggled to blend them into a team.
Mellis, who progressed through United’s academy before joining Chelsea nine years ago, demonstrated woeful lack of comradeship when he was dismissed moments before the break.
His tackle on Done was reckless and, given the striker’s position on the half-way line, wholly unnecessary. Leigh also saw red during the closing stages but could be forgiven after making a far more telling contribution.
United’s preparations had been less than ideal with doubts about the availability of Paul Coutts, Kieron Freeman and Duffy threatening to complicate Wilder’s selections plans.
In the event, only Coutts was deemed fit enough to take part although any pre-match difficulties endured by the 49-year-old paled into insignificance compared to those endured by Brass and his fellow caretaker Ryan Kidd.
Having inherited a squad low on points and even lower on confidence, the two men spent Monday morning waiting to discover whether a winding-up order, brought by HM Revenue and Customs, would be upheld by the High Court.
For the third time in the space of a year, Bury were handed a reprieve when their latest tax bill was settled in full but, after Ebanks-Landell’s dramatic intervention, they face a series of equally onerous battles on the pitch.
United controlled the action throughout but were forced to wait until the 95th minute before breaking the visitors’ resolve.
Bury, naming former Everton trainee James Vaughan and Danny Mayor, previously of Sheffield Wednesday, in their starting eleven, had made their intentions clear by constructing two banks of four whenever Wilder’s men had the ball.
The result was a fractious opening period which saw United probe and press but fail to carve a genuine opening until Billy Sharp prodded over the crossbar after a quarter-of-an-hour.
Freeman’s absence initially curbed some of the hosts’ attacking threat.
But, with 17 minutes of the half remaining, his fellow wing-back Daniel Lafferty wasted a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock by heading Sharp’s centre into the stand behind Williams’ goal.
Further chances followed with Chris Basham heading wide and Scougall hitting the woodwork.Mellis’ exit saw Bury drop even further back but, in the 48th minute, they were inches away from taking a shock lead when Leigh’s angled drive flew wide.
Leigh made his presence felt at the other end of the pitch when, in the 67th minute, he cleared Leon Clarke’s header off the line.
But, with less than five minutes of normal time remaining, he received his second caution for a foul on Coutts. Chapman was thwarted by Antony Kay following a late scramble in the box.
Ebanks-Landell, though, was not to be denied after Caolan Lavery, Coutts and Lafferty all combined.
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Scougall (Clarke 46), Sharp, Done (Lavery 75), Wright (Chapman 63), Coutts, Ebanks-Landell, Lafferty. Not used: Hussey, Ramsdale, Brown, Whiteman.
Bury: Williams, Jones, Leigh, Kay, Mayor, Pope (Etuhu 46), Vaughan, Mellis, Soares, Burgess (Tutte 60), Barnett (Danns 77). Not used: Tutte, Rachubka, Hope, Miller, Bedeau.
Referee: Ross Joyce (Teesside).