Sheffield United: Chris Wilder's team ride their luck during 0-0 draw with Birmingham City
Long before Lukas Jutkiewicz hammered a first-half shot against the post, Chris Wilder knew this would not be a routine assignment for his Sheffield United side.
Birmingham City might have arrived at Bramall Lane in seemingly desperate shape but, behind theÂ disappointing results and doom-laden headlines caused by their wrangle with the English Football League,Â a squad of genuine pedigree lurks.
Wilder's suspicions proved correct when, despite being placed under a transfer embargo, the visitorsÂ named a starting eleven containing over Â£10m worth of talent and a Â£3m signing on the bench.
So, despite his obvious frustrations, United's manager will not be distraught by the result. Instead it wasÂ the performance, moments of promise interspersed with rank carelessness, which caused him most distress..
Summoned to appear in front of an EFL disciplinary commission after breaching FFP guidelines, City's mostÂ important battle of the season is yet to come. Yet, given the respective trajectories of the two clubs of late,Â
Garry Monk will have viewed this contest as a win or sorts. Certainly, his demeanour was happier than Wilder's who, as action became increasingly ragged, pacedÂ angrily around the technical area. United showed flashes of quality, most notably when Oliver Norwood andÂ Duffy edged forward before the break.
But, for the most part, they were too cautious and too pedestrianÂ despite making a series of changes as the match progressed. A series of fine blocks from Dean Henderson, a late hand to deny Connor Mahoney being the pick of theÂ bunch, ensured their mistakes did not carry a much higher price.
Even so, with Gary Gardner also hitting the woodwork and substitute Omar Bogle losing his shooting boots inside the six yard box, the clean sheet came more by accident than design.
Discussing City's financial woes beforehand was a calculated gamble on Wilder's part. Aware that callingÂ for reckless spenders to be punished might provide ammunition for Monk and his players, the UnitedÂ manager's words also ensured his team, constructed on a much more modest budget, entered last night'sÂ contest with a moral mandate for success. Claims the governing body has damaged the integrity of itsÂ flagship competition by threatening to deduct City points sound hollower every time Kristian Pedersen,Â acquired in defiance of an EFL diktat, pulls on a blue and white shirt. Still, much to the Dane's relief, Che Adams performed the role of pantomime villain here.
Two years haveÂ passed since the youngster, whose determination to swap South Yorkshire for St Andrews has not beenÂ forgotten in these parts,waved goodbye to Bramall Lane. Time, though, is no great healer where footballingÂ loyalties are concerned and if Adams was expecting a red carpet welcome he was sorely mistaken.
Nevertheless, he missed a glorious opportunity midway through the second period after heading MaximeÂ Colin's centre straight into Henderson's hands. Marvin Johnson, making his full debut alongside Conor Washington, was handed the task of marshallingÂ Jota; the former Real Madrid B and Eibar midfielder who rose to prominence with Brentford. It was anÂ unenviable task, given the Spaniard's spatial awareness and polished technique. But, after an anxiousÂ beginning, Johnson decided attack was the best form of defence. The cross Pederson was forced to turnÂ behind for a corner was the first of many dangerous balls he whipped into City's box.
Despite their perilous position in the table, Monk's men had come to play. Indeed, although Johnson's paceÂ continued to cause them problems, City could have takenÂ an early lead when Maxime Colin and LukasÂ Jutkiewicz combined to find Jacques Maghoma at the far post only for the Congolese to head wide.
Although United applied the greater pressure and produced more promising passages of play, City wentÂ close again during the closing stages of the first half. Mark Duffy drew a reaction save from Lee CampÂ when his deflected attempted spiralled towards the near post and both Washington and Leon Clarke wereÂ inches away from finishing several of the centres which peppered City's area. However, GardnerÂ robbed John Fleck of possession inside United's half, Jutkiewicz powered forward before unleashing aÂ thunderous shot which Henderson palmed onto a post.
Gardner followed suit with less than 10 minutes remaining, after curling his free-kick around the wall after Bogle somehow turned Colin's pass over from point blank range.