Match Report: Sheffield United 2, Shrewsbury Town 1
Sheffield United stretched their unbeaten run in League One competition to 13 games by beating nine-man Shrewsbury Town earlier this afternoon.
But the result, which lifts Chris Wilder's side to second in the table, came at a price with Mark Duffy, Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman all suffering injuries which could rule them out of forthcoming matches against Bury and Charlton Athletic.
Paul Hurst's patience was tested too. Shrewsbury travelled north unbeaten under the former Grimsby Town manager's stewardship and searching for a fourth straight win. Louis Dodds' second-half effort, after Billy Sharp and Stefan Scougall had seemingly put United in complete control, ensured they remained a threat until the end.
But with Jim O'Brien and Abu Ogogo both receiving their marching orders, Hurst will take little satisfaction from the combative performance his men produced.
United's starting eleven - unchanged following last weekend's victory over Chesterfield - came as no surprise given their form of late. Few eyebrows were raised when Aaron Ramsdale and Harry Chapman returned to the bench after missing the visit to Derbyshire due to international commitments. Neither, given United's recent habit of overwhelming opponents from the off, was it a shock to see Sharp edge them in front early on. Although Duffy's departure through injury soon after briefly subdued the atmosphere inside Bramall Lane.
Predictably, United dominated the remainder of the half with Sharp missing a penalty after Jim O'Brien had been sent-off and Scougall doubling the hosts' lead.
O'Brien, the fifth Shrewsbury player to see red this season, looked crestfallen as he trooped off the pitch. Back in the dressing room, his mood will not have improved when the sound of the celebrations which greeted Scougall's strike reverberated through the ground. Nor, seconds before the interval, after seeing Abu Ogogo stroll through the door after also incurring referee Darren Deadman's wrath.
Paul Coutts, who was caught late by his fellow midfielder, failed to reappear for the second period. United led by two goals but, with Bury arriving in South Yorkshire on Tuesday evening, their grip on this contest had come at a cost. Even more so when Kieron Freeman also succumbed to a knock.
When Dodds pounced in the 73rd minute, Wilder's men suddenly feared the worst. Chapman, Sharp and Matt Done all missed chances to put the contest beyond Shrewsbury's reach. But, after Junior Brown had fortuitiously turned Sharp's header behind for a corner rather than into his own net, United stumbled across the line.
After a slow start to the campaign, Sharp has spent the past few months in superb form. Having scored twice at Greenhous Meadow last month, United's captain pierced Shrewsbury's rearguard again in the eighth minute having been released by John Fleck's pass. The Scot sent United's captain clean through on goal after picking his spot between two visiting defenders and his team mate made no mistake.
Unlike, 14 minutes later, when O'Brien's foul on Lafferty saw Deadman award a penalty. Rather than pick a corner, Sharp decided to power the ball straight down the middle. Mark Halstead read the situation perfectly, stood firm, and saved.
Scougall, who had replaced Duffy following the opener, ensured United's disappointment did not last long when he prodded home through a crowd of players just three minutes later.
Coutts went close as United continued to press. With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Adam El-Abd was cautioned a late challenge on Basham. It was the correct decision from Deadman although Basham, dismissed by the same referee for almost exactly the same challenge at Scunthorpe earlier this term, might beg to differ.
El-Abd recovered his senses to deny Scougall a second before Sharp, leaning backwards to meet the ball, headed just wide in the 44th minute. But Ogogo - or Deadman depending upon your point of view - lost his during a skirmish with Coutts.
Chapman, fresh from scoring a hat-trick against Orient in the FA Cup, could have found the back of the net seconds after replacing Freeman but lost his footing at the vital moment and, as a consequence, all power on his shot.
United's profligacy - Sharp and Scougall both failing to connect with a Chapman centre - came back to haunt them when Dodds smashed home at the near post. The goal completely changed the complexion of the game and the atmosphere inside the stadium too. Suddenly, having apparently been cruising towards victory, nerves began creeping into United's play.
Chapman should have ended Shrewsbury's resistance soon after but headed over from point blank range. Then, Done found himself bearing down on goal but Halstead produced a superb save to turn his low shot around the post. From the resulting corner, he also denied Sharp.
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, Basham, Sharp, Done, Wright, Coutts (O'Connell 46), Freeman (Chapman 60), Ebanks-Landell, Duffy (Scougall 11), Lafferty. Not used: Lavery, Ramsdale, Brown, Clarke, Chapman.
Shrewsbury Town: Halstead, Lancashire, Ogogo, Toney (Black 46), Dodds, O'Brien, J Brown, Grimmer, Deegan, Leitch-Smith (Ebanks-Blake 46), El-Abd. Not used: Leutwiler, Sadler, Smith, Sarcevic, Waring.
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire). Attendance: 20,195.