Match Report: Sheffield United exit the Carabao Cup as Hull City progress on penalties
Even Nigel Adkins, a manager whose notoriously upbeat demeanour means he could take the positives from a double digit defeat, must have felt like shaking Chris Wilder by the throat during the pre-match pleasantries.
Not content with succeeding where his opposite number and predecessor failed by leading Sheffield United back into the Championship, Wilder has now taken to beating him in the transfer market as well after unveiling Oliver Norwood, one of Hull City's leading targets, on the eve of last night's Carabao Cup first round tie.
The midfielder, who could soon be joined at Bramall Lane by Marvin Johnson, another name on Adkins' summer shopping list, impressed on his first appearance for Wilder's side. But it was Billy Sharp, scoring for the second time in as many outings, who took the match to penalties where Kevin Stewart's decisive spot-kick enabled Adkins to exact a modicum of revenge.
Despite all their early promise, there was still something depressingly familiar about the manner in which United fell behind. Having been chastised for missing chances and leaving themselves wide open to a counter-punch, it was no surprise when Jon Toral exploited this vulnerability by starting and finishing the evening's first productive move following a skirmish in City's box. Reece Burke produced a commanding shift for the visitors before departing through injury. But the fact United trailed until the final quarter-of-an-hour provided further evidence of the need for attacking reinforcements ahead of the forthcoming loan deadline. Still, the quality of Sharp's equaliser provided United's coaching staff with a timely reminder there is still plenty of talent already at their disposal. John Fleck's pass was simple but the execution - as the ball looped through the air towards the far post - absolutely superb.
Norwood's performance, combined with the substitute's sumptuous volley, will have at least gone some way towards calming Wilder's mood. Positioning himself just in front of United's defensive line, the 27-year-old proved a more than capable quarter-back with his calmness under pressure and expert passing range. Introduced only 24 hours after arriving from Brighton and Hove Albion, Norwood will undoubtedly benefit from more time on the training ground with his new colleagues. But a collection of inventive cameos confirmed the wisdom of United's decision to sign him; even if Lee Evans had to be sacrificed to push through the deal. A missed penalty, which ensured his colleagues were playing catch-up throughout the shoot-out, was Norwood's only false step.
Although Wilder and Adkins both talked-up the competition's importance beforehand, their team selection betrayed where their priorities lie. David Marshall and Reece Burke were the only survivors of City's draw with Sheffield Wednesday three days earlier while United, despite naming a reassuringly strong eleven, made five changes of their own with Norwood and Ben Woodburn both making their full debuts.
United's greater experience and cohesion meant it was inevitable they dominated the opening exchanges of the match with Kieron Freeman and Norwood combining to draw a save from David Marshall and Woodburn wrongfooting City's defence with a clever reverse pass which Mark Duffy just failed to control.
But Nouha Dicko's willingness to chase seemingly hopeless causes meant City also carried a threat; as Kevin Stewart demonstrated by sending a long-range effort whistling over the crossbar after the Mali international had forced a corner in front a deserted Kop.
Nevertheless, Toral's 18th minute strike still came against the run of play. After a game of pinball on the edge of Marshall's area which saw Duffy, Woodburn and Norwood all have shots blocked, the Spaniard grabbed possession and darted 40 yards downfield before sliding home unmarked after exchanging passes with Dicko. Only Reece Burke's last ditch tackle denied Leon Clarke a clear sight of goal as United looked to respond but, for all their early promise, they were fortunate not to concede again when Jackson Irvine sliced wide midway through the first half. Confusion reigned again when, for reasons only known to him, Clarke opted to cross rather than shoot after ghosting into space. His team mate's were clearly expecting him to choose the latter option because not one had bothered to track their captain's run. Back on the half-way line, Wilder's reaction suggested he was struggling to fathom Clarke's reading of the situation too. However, the centre-forward was unfortunate not to redeem himself moments later when, after meeting Enda Stevens' centre, his strike rebounded back-off the goalkeeper's chest.
Will Keane and John Egan struck the woodwork as the contest became increasingly stretched after the interval while Irvine saw a strong appeal for a penalty turned down after being fouled by Ryan Leonard.
Sharp's intervention would have changed the course of the contest but for some desperate defending from City, with Toral heading a Chris Basham effort off the line and Marshall denying Stevens with a flying save.
Sheffield United: Moore, O'Connell, Egan, Leonard (Basham 60), Stevens, Freeman, Lundstram (Fleck 70), Norwood, Duffy (Sharp 46), Woodburn, Clarke, Not used: Henderson, Stearman, Norrington-Davies, Parkhouse.
Hull City: Marshall, Burke (Kingsley 37), Stewart, Dicko (Milinkovic 66), Toral, MacDonald, Irvine, Fleming, Keane, Curry, McKenzie (Grosicki 70). Not used: Long, Kane, Bowen, Kingsley, Sheaf.
Referee: Martin Coy (County Durham).
Goals: Toral (18), Sharp (75)
Penalties: Norwood (miss), Toral (scored), Sharp (scored), Keane (scored), Woodburn (scored), Grosicki (scored), O'Connell (scored), Milinkovic (scored), Basham (scored), Stewart (scored).