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Blackburn Rovers 0 Sheffield United 2: Blades go third and Billy Sharp does it again

Blackburn Rovers v Sheffield United
Blackburn Rovers v Sheffield United

Chris Wilder had promised fireworks and Tony Mowbray, speaking in the matchday programme, pretty much the same.

But what actually transpired, on a mild autumnal evening at Ewood Park, was more akin to a chess match as Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers, both respectful of each other's talents, showcased their tactical as well as attacking prowess.

In the end, following two more goals from the unerringly prolific Billy Sharp, it was United and Wilder who deservedly came out on top. Given the hosts' strength on home soil, where they were previously unbeaten in 17 outings, this was both a hugely impressive and significant win. Made all the better, Wilder acknowledged after learning United had climbed to third in the table, by the sight of Paul Coutts making his long-awaited return from injury.

The partnership between Sharp and David McGoldrick has been a driving force behind United's recent good form and, after both were on target during last weekend's victory over Millwall, there was an early glimpse of its potential when the latter dispossessed Corry Evans in midfield. Although McGoldrick's pass found the United captain, Rovers' defenders had quickly scrambled back. It was, despite some excellent  counter attacking play from both teams, a taste of what was the come.

Nevertheless, only David Raya's reactions prevented United from establishing a lead before the half-time break with Duffy drawing the first of four important saves. When McGoldrick, Jack O'Connell and John Fleck also went close, Wilder, who spent most of the contest deep in conversation with his assistant Alan Knill, must have suspected the tide was beginning to turn.

It was, Sharp sliding home from close-range at the second attempt, but not before Fleck and Kieron Freeman were both required to produce crucial blocks at the other end of the pitch.

The United supporters, crammed into the Bryan Douglas Darwen End behind Raya's goal, roared their approval when the captain claimed the first of typically clinical brace. Likewise when Coutts, moments before Sharp put the game beyond reach, made his first appearance since breaking a leg in November.

It is a measure of Wilder's confidence in the Scot that he was introduced at such a pivotal stage of the game and Coutts, despite some inevitable ring rust, did not disappoint.

Given the progress they have made in recent months, it is easy to forget this is only United's second season back in the Championship following six in League One. Wilder, however, remains acutely aware his squad is still on a steep learning curve. With this in mind, despite suggesting the fixture schedule would force him to break up a winning team, United's manager named the same starting eleven which had triumphed at The Den four days earlier.

Although space was at a premium, particularly during the opening exchanges, there was still plenty of attacking intent from both sets of players. Still, it was not until midway through the first period when the first chance of note arose; Duffy seeing a powerful shot palmed away to safety by Raya.

Sharp glanced wide from an Enda Stevens cross as United continued to search for openings although Rovers wasted no time reminding them of the threat they also posed when John Egan and Chris Basham were forced to combine to thwart an Adam Armstrong break.

That passage of play, instigated by Bradley Dack, signalled the start of the hosts' best period so far with the former Gillingham midfielder seeing a shot deflected behind for a corner soon after.

It drew a forceful response from Wilder's men, with Raya, Rovers' 23-year-old goalkeeper, denying O'Connell and Fleck in quick succession.

Although Mowbray's decision to introduce Charlie Mulgrew was in part a response to United's gathering momentum, Wilder's team began the second-half in encouraging fashion.

Basham, whose overlapping runs had been highlighted by the Rovers manager in his pre-game briefing, carved another chance for Fleck after powering his way to the by-line but the Scot's first time effort was blocked.

McGoldrick and Sharp combined again when the latter scrambled the ball across the line in the 60th minute, applying the finishing touches to an attack instigated by Fleck. His second, nearly 20 minutes later, was also expertly crafted following Enda Stevens' deep cross.

Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Williams, Reed, Smallwood (Mulgrew 46), Armstrong, Graham (Brereton 56), Bell (Rothwell 69), Dack, Lenihan, Evans, Bennett. Not used: Leutwilder, Rodwell, Conway, Palmer.

Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O'Connell, Stevens, Freeman, Norwood, Fleck, Duffy (Coutts 74), Sharp (Clarke 82), McGoldrick (Washington 87). Not used: Moore, Lundstram, Stearman, Johnson.

Referee: Robert Jones

Attendance: 13,293