Sheffield United were forced to settle for a pont in their Yorkshire derby at Bramall Lane, as Bradford City fought back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Make no mistake, Nigel Clough admitted on the eve of this afternoon’s Yorkshire derby, United are embroiled in a battle against relegation.
A much better and more uncompromising team, he had insisted, than the one which Bradford City had dispatched 2-0 at Valley Parade during the opening skirmishes of the present campaign.
But still, as a glance at the table before kick-off confirmed, fighting for their lives to beat the drop.
So Clough, overseeing his 16th game since taking charge of United in October, will have been encouraged to see them make a positive start when Murphy drew the foul which allowed Baxter to test McLaughlin’s handling skills - Maguire had peeled towards the far post - almost straight from kick-off.
Even more so when, with eight minutes gone, United took the lead courtesy of MURPHY’s fourth goal of the campaign before MAGUIRE doubled their advantage during the closing stages of an enthralling first-half.
City, who capped a remarkable year by winning promotion from League Two last term, arrived at Bramall Lane without Nakhi Wells having sold the Bermudan, whose brace had put United to the sword five months ago, to Huddersfield Town earlier this month.
Phil Parkinson, Clough’s counterpart across the technical area, used some of the money recouped to sign McLean on Thursday, hoping he could also form a productive partnership with the towering Hanson in attack.
Hanson, who progressed through non-league before being receiving his big break in the professional game, made his presence felt after four minutes when he rose to meet a deep free-kick, but headed tamely at Long.
McLean’s first touch, which came 30 seconds earlier, saw him trap the ball dead before spreading play towards Thompson on the flank but Hill intervened.
United provided another glimpse of the potential which exists within their ranks when McMahon’s angled drive across the City box allowed Murphy, sliding beyond Darby, to slide home from close range.
Only the width of the crossbar, and a superb clearance from Baxter, prevented City from restoring parity almost immediately though.
Hanson, who had already caused United all manner of problems from set-piece situations, saw another header cannon back off the crossbar and when McHugh blasted the rebound towards goal, the former Everton midfielder had positioned himself perfectly to nod away to safety.
In the 30th minute, both teams took an unwelcome break when Reid was stretched from the pitch in agony after a seemingly innocuous incident following a throw-in. Yeates, another ex-United player, duly entered the fray before Maguire foiled McLean’s counter-attack.
Five minutes before the interval, the United centre-half made an equally important contribution when, from Baxter’s corner, his header sneaked into the back of the net despite the best efforts of McLaughlin and Jones.
City, desperately searching for a route back into the contest, started the second period firmly on the front foot and should have reduced the deficit in the 50th minute but Hanson and McLean both made a dreadful hash of converting Yeates’ dangerous cross.
McGinn received a round of applause from an agitated Clough after closing down City’s defence but the United manager was shaking his head in dismay when JONES’ shot took a wicked deflection to wrong foot Long and find its way into the home side’s net.
Porter replaced Paynter in the 61st minute and two minutes later City were level.
Jones whipped in a free-kick, won after City had stolen a good 10 yards from a throw in front of the dug-outs, and HANSON pounced when Long diverted the ball into his path.
The action continued to surge from one end of the pitch to another as McMahon intervened as McLean shaped to shoot following some industrious work from Flynn.
McHugh joined Doyle in the referee’s notebook for a foul on Baxter, who hobbled off the pitch with Miller coming on with 10 minutes remaining.
The nature of his injury was unclear but, from United’s perspective, it was encouarging to see Baxter walk, albeit with help, around the perimeter of the pitch and down the tunnel.
I the 88th minute, Coady and McGinn swapped places before Murphy curled inches wide when Miller tempted McLaughlin off his line.