Sheffield United verdict and reaction: Blades 1 Port Vale 0
At first glance, beating a Port Vale team whose passing was described as 'awful' by manager Robert Page, is unlikely to set alarm bells ringing among their rivals for a League One play-off berth.
But, given the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s fixture and the manner in which the result was achieved, Louis Reed argued that by ending a week to forget on a triumphant note Sheffield United had at least confirmed they possess the cojones required to force themselves back into the mix.
“Within the team that played today, there’s a lot of experience,” Reed, the United midfielder, said. “And a lot of big-game experience too.
“The knowledge we have acquired during those matches could, as far as I’m concerned, be vital now because we are at the business end of the season and hopefully that will give us the edge.”
Having seen their preparations overshadowed by the repercussions of last week’s defeat by Bury and confirmation that Jose Baxter, Reed’s colleague and fellow midfielder, had failed a drugs test, this was the type of positive result United were delighted to achieve.
Billy Sharp’s second-half goal, his 15th of the season, proved enough to settle a contest which Nigel Adkins acknowledged beforehand would prove a test of his team’s stamina, physical fortitude and mental strength.
United, now seventh in the table with 14 matches remaining, still trail sixth-placed Coventry City by four points having played a game more than their rivals from the Midlands.
But, Reed insisted afterwards, the knowledge acquired during last season’s push for top-six qualification should prove invaluable as the race for play-off places enters a decisive phase.
“Within the team there’s a lot of know-how,” he said. “Lots of older players who have been there, seen it and done it. They can help out the young lads like me and Che (Adams), show us the way, because they have been here before, many times.
“Last year, with the play-offs, me and Che were part of that of that as well. It was a good experience and can’t harm us in these sort of situations because we know what’s needed. We’ve tasted it before. The main thing is don’t get too carried away, thinking about the play-offs. We just need to focus on one game at a time and get a result.”
“I think we can deliver even more than we did today,” Reed added. “But the fact we got the result, albeit that we have not played as well as we think we can, is a good sign and tells you a lot about the character of the lads.
“We are making chances and on another day we could have put three or four away and come in at half-time 4-0 up. That’s what we have to keep working towards and hopefully it will come in the next few games.”
Sharp’s effort, a superb finish following Dean Hammond’s assist, catapulted United to their first win at Bramall Lane since December 28 and ended the club’s 69-day wait for a clean sheet on home soil.
The match also marked the return of Florent Cuvelier from a near-12-month absence due to injury. With Baxter facing a lengthy suspension after traces of a prohibited recreational substance were discovered in his system following United’s visit to Gigg Lane, the Belgian’s recovery could not have been more timely as Adkins searches for alternative ways to equip United’s midfield with a creative edge.
“”We had some good passages of play, but to be fair to Port Vale they had quite a lot of the ball, especially when we went 1-0 up,” Reed said. “It was just a case of keeping solid at the back, not sitting back, and making sure we didn’t concede a goal. Bury, we know, wasn’t good enough, and today was the perfect stage to put things right.
“We have been talking how important it is to put a run of results together, and our main priority is getting as high up that league table as we can. All the staff and players are on the same wavelength, everyone knows where we need to be going. Bury was nowhere near good enough but hopefully we have set things right out there.”
Page, who made 128 appearances for United during his own playing career, felt Adkins charges “were there for the taking” given their recent problems on and off the pitch. As Reed conceded, the Blades were far from perfect but, importantly, did demonstrate a tenacious edge.
Adams, partnering Sharp in attack after United unveiled a new-look back three to accommodate his presence, burst clear during the opening exchanges but shot wide before the eventual match-winner followed suit.
But Sharp calculated his angles perfectly when, after a patient build-up, he powered home on the turn.
“Sharpy is on fire at the moment,” Reed said, “If we keep feeding him, the goals will keep coming, I’m sure.”
Sheffield United: Long 7, Brayford 6, Basham 7, Flynn 7 (Coutts 83), Sharp 7, Woolford 6, McEveley 7, Reed 7, Adams 7 (Done 81), Edgar 7, Hammond 7 (Cuvelier 66). Not used: Howard, Campbell-Ryce, Calvert-Lewin, McGahey.
Port Vale: Neal 7, Purkiss 7, Dickinson 6, McGivern 6, Duffy 6, Kennedy 6, Foley 7, Moore 6 (Kelly 62, 6), Leitch Smith 6 (Dodds 76), Robinson 6 (Hooper 57, 6), Grant 7. Not used: Streete, O’Connor, Brown, Boot.
Referee: Ben Toner (Lancashire).