Sheffield United verdict and reaction: Fleetwood Town 2 Sheffield United 2
According to Nigel Adkins, it is adversity, not success, which reveals most about the character of a player.
Unfortunately for the Sheffield United manager, opportunities to analyse his team’s psyche have been in plentiful supply throughout what has been a testing and at times traumatic first season in charge.
Despite once again lamenting the visitors’ knack of discovering ways to make games infinitely more difficult than they really ought to be - he described both goals they conceded against Fleetwood Town as “scandalous” - at least on this occasion Adkins could console himself with the knowledge that appetite for self-destruction had cost them only two points rather than three.
Centre-forward Che Adams insisted that the timing of United’s recovery answered questions about the character of their squad, although doubts remain about its calibre in key areas.
“We won’t give up,” Adams said, after scoring his ninth of the season in added time. “All through the game, we kept going, stayed together and stayed strong.
“I thought we dominated for long periods. We should have won, definitely, but we also showed guts.”
Perhaps it was fitting that inside the same stadium where Jamie Vardy first rose to prominence two players who have also plotted a course through English football’s backwaters helped shape the course of what proved a controversial fixture.
Adams scored the equaliser which ensured United’s slim hopes of promotion remain intact after Ashley Hunter, his former teammate at Northern Premier League club Ilkeston FC, had earlier restored parity following Marcus Nilsson’s own goal.
The Swede redeemed himself by edging Steve Pressley’s team in front before Adams, volunteering for spot-kick duty in Billy Sharp’s absence, kept his head while all around him were losing theirs.
“Me and Ash played together for a bit and he’s doing really well for himself,” Adams said. “There’s talent beyond the league, a few gems if you look, and there are quite a few lads getting picked up now and coming through.”
“That’s my first penalty in a competitive league game. I had to wait quite a while because of the hold-up but I just focused on the goal. Everything else, I just blanked out.”
Adams was referring to the melee prompted by referee Carl Boyeson’s decision to punish Amari’i Bell’s trip on Ryan Flynn and Steven Pressley’s claim that Chris Maxwell, the Fleetwood goalkeeper, had been struck by an object thrown from the crowd.
Pressley, Adkins’ rival across the technical area, later levelled a potentially serious charge against the official when he insisted Boyeson told Maxwell “it was his own fault” and vowed to pursue the matter with the FA.
Fleetwood could have no complaints about the sending-off which left them at a numerical disadvantage for the final seven minutes - substitute Nick Haughton petulantly kicking the ball away having already been cautioned - but Boyeson found himself at the centre of controversy again when Adkins argued John Brayford’s 94th-minute ‘winner’ had been mistakenly disallowed.
“Apparently it was for a foul on the keeper,” he said. “We’ve looked and there isn’t one.”
With Sharp ruled out through illness, Adams was the senior partner in an attack also containing fellow teenager Dominic Calvert-Lewin and seemingly revelled in the responsibility. United’s diminishing returns in front of goal - they made the journey west searching for their first goal in nearly four hours of football - have been accentuated by their reliance on Sharp.
Matt Done appeared to have become the first United player other thanthe 30-year-old to score since February 13 when his shot, following a patient move instigated by Florent Cuevlier and embellished by Brayford and Calvert-Lewin, sneaked past Maxwell, although Nilsson later admitted he had got the decisive touch.
Pressley, one of only 10 people to represent both sides of the Old Firm as a player, is clearly not fazed by a challenge and demands the same of his team. Hunter led the fightback when he glanced home before Nilsson threatened to turn the game on its head after also being left unmarked.
United, who had earlier seen Adams twice go close before Flynn and Dean Hammond dragged wide, appeared to be on the verge of slipping to a third straight league defeat for the first time since the dying embers of David Weir’s reign in September 2013 but escaped when Haughton misbehaved and Bell miscalculated.
“We’ve got to keep battling,” Adams said after helping United climb to 11th, six points behind the play-off positions.
“And we’ve shown that we will because we don’t give up.”
Fleetwood Town: Maxwell 6, Jonsson 6, Bell 6, Ryan 7, Ameobi 6, Burns 6, Nirennold 6, Hunter 7 (Matt 76), Ball 6, Nilsson 6, Davis 6 (Sowerby 46, Haughton 70). Not used: Matt, Grant,Williams, Gogic, Cole.
Sheffield United: Long 6, Brayford 6, Basham 6, Flynn 7, Done 7, Baptiste 7, Calvert-Lewin 6 (Sammon 74), Adams 7, Cuvelier 6 (Coutts 46), Edgar 6, Hammond 6. Not used: Howard, Campbell-Ryce, McGahey, Whiteman, Kelly.
Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire).