Sheffield Derby Analysis: The Steel City skirmish produced an unlikely hero as Sheffield United dominate but Sheffield Wednesday take a pointÂ
There was passion, drama, pride and, after an hour-and-a-half of breathless action, an unlikely hero emerged.
Predictably, given the unpredictable nature of these contests, a player whose position in SheffieldÂ Wednesday's starting eleven has come under scrutiny in recent weeks departed Bramall Lane beingÂ serenaded by the travelling supporters after his part in the pivotal moment of this game.
The 130th derby was still in its infancy when, following Morgan Fox's trip on Mark Duffy, referee AndrewÂ Madley awarded a penalty. With Sheffield United in control, thanks to some intelligent football at oddsÂ with the raucous atmosphere, David McGoldrick sensed a successful outcome could be the start ofÂ something big. But so did Dawson, who has form in these situations, and duly came up with the goods;Â saving a penalty for the second time in as many outings after his block against Norwich City last weekend.
Wednesday, who arrivedÂ hoping to avoid a fifth straight defeat, will hope this represents a turning point in a campaign which has not lived up to expectations. A first clean sheet since August, despite spending almost the entirety of the fixture orchestrating a rearguard action, suggests question marks about their durability are wide of the mark.
For United, who saw Billy Sharp glance a header wide in added time, it was definitely a case of two dropped. Chris Wilder's side enjoyed more possession, more chances and more attempts on goal. But they failed to translate their statistical superiority into a breakthrough.
Nevertheless Wilder insisted their performance, which he described as "brilliant" suggested a shift in regional power.
"We dominated it," he said. "And didn't get what we deserved. But I'm not going to nit-pick because we've been by far the better group against a big and powerful club. We all know the numbers."
The psychological warfare beforehand was as fiercely contested as events on the pitch with Wilder,Â despite Jose Luhukay's claims to the contrary, portraying Wednesday as favourites. For the 51-year-old, who referenced the opposition's transfer spend and wage bill to try and illustrate his point, the build-up was also an opportunity to highlight his local credentials. Not to mention, after a series of oblique attacks in recent weeks, hoist United's flag in the heart of the city.
It was mischievous and, like the omitting the word 'Sheffield' next to Wednesday's name on the officialÂ team sheet, designed to provoke a reaction.
Despite being less demonstrative than Wilder, Luhukay is not averse to playing tricks of his own. MarcoÂ Matias, who together with Fernando Forestieri was supposedly facing a prolonged period on the sidelines,Â returned to the matchday squad after his injured hamstring miraculously healed.
The Dutchman, whose organisational skills and tactical nous persuaded Dejphon Chansiri to appoint himÂ 10 months ago, sprung another surprise by electing to mirror United's preferred 3-5-2 formation. It worked, albeit only to a degree. The visitors owed their result to grit, Dawson's brilliance and, although they will not care to admit it, United's profligacy.
"Sheffield United make a lot of pressure," Luhukay said, after McGoldrick's attempt had been palmed around a post. "But the draw, for us, was important. The draw is a first step."
After a poignant and impeccably observed Remembrance tribute brought a sense of perspective to theÂ occasion, sporting battle commenced. The early skirmishes unfolded exactly as expected, with UnitedÂ attempting to overwhelm their opponents by committing men forward and moving the ball at pace.
It was a ploy which, as Wednesday's rearguard scrambled across the pitch, would have produced anÂ almost immediate reward but for Dawson's save from John Fleck. Predictably, given the capricious nature ofÂ these affairs, Luhukay's charges responded by creating a fine chance of their own although Fox sliced overÂ the crossbar from inside the six yard box.Â
There another twist soon after when Dawson, diving low to his left, palmed McGoldrick's spot-kick aroundÂ the post. Luhukay, who had appealed for Wednesday followers to back the youngster beforehand, noddedÂ his head in approval as Dawson's name echoed around the stadium. McGoldrick, meanwhile, stared at theÂ heavens in disbelief.
Sensing United's disappointment, Steven Fletcher led Wednesday's response with a driving run which onlyÂ came to an end when he found himself with a shortage of viable options inside the box. Sharp andÂ Duffy also tried their luck, with the latter seeing a shot destined for the top corner of Dawson's netÂ deflected behind for a corner.
United continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession but their invention drained as the nightÂ progressed. Dawson made another save, this time from Duffy, towards the end of the second period butÂ otherwise remained relatively untroubled as the hosts' delivery went awry. Oliver Norwood and Sharp went close at the death but, at the end, the deadlock remained intact.
'I don't understand why Cameron has been criticised before,' Luhukay said. 'I believe in him.'