Bristol City versus Sheffield United: Missed chances frustrate rival managers

It wasn’t the giant leap forward Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom had envisaged his team making on another eventful and unpredictable day of Championship action.

Monday, 18th April 2022, 8:39 pm

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But thanks to a delightful piece of improvisation by Morgan Gibbs-White, whose acrobatic finish ensured Chris Martin’s strike did not propel Bristol City to what would have been an unlikely victory, the visitors did take another small step towards qualifying for the play-offs.

Sixth in the table with three matches remaining, a point and a place ahead of the weekend’s big movers Millwall, United produced some elegant football at Ashton Gate.

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Enda Stevens shoots wide during Sheffield United's game against Bristol City at Ashton Gate: Darren Staples / Sportimage

Had they been a little more effective, particularly before falling behind following a costly lapse of concentration, City would almost certainly have succumbed.

“In my mind, we deserved it,” Heckingbottom said. “If you don’t take openings, though, then you lose control.”

Both teams were guilty of spurning chances. But United will have a greater sense of regret, after forcing a series of errors from Nigel Pearson’s men.

“They’re a decent side,” he acknowledged. “But there’s no bad teams in this division.”

lliman Ndiaye has an attempt on target for Sheffield United: Darren Staples / Sportimage

Allocated the evening slot on Bank Holiday Monday, United entered this game knowing exactly what the majority of their rivals had done in the race for the top six. Which may be explained why, with Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough both being beaten beforehand, Heckingbottom’s men appeared surprisingly relaxed during the early skirmishes of this contest. Maybe a shade too relaxed for Heckingbottom’s liking, with the 44-year-old enthusiastically signalling his approval whenever someone decided to raise the tempo.

Morgan Gibbs-White and Iliman Ndiaye, one of five changes United made to their starting eleven, were on the same wavelength as their manager. The two combined early on to create the opening which saw Dan Bentley block Gibbs-White’s attempt with his legs. They were also involved, albeit at the beginning, of the move that ended with Sander Berge dragging wide of Bentley’s right hand post after ghosting past two markers.

But, for the most part, this was tame fayre. City’s inability to pose any serious questions of a rearguard containing the fit again Chris Basham meant United were never really forced to reach sixth gear. Whenever they did - or Bentley went all Petar Borota - Heckingbottom’s men appeared superior.

“If we’d have scored two or three, great performance,” Heckingbottom said. “But we didn’t.”

Daniel Bentley of Bristol City save at the feet of Chris Basham of Sheffield United during the Sky Bet Championship match at Ashton Gate, Bristol: Darren Staples / Sportimage

Of course, the longer United went without punishing impotence, the more you knew at some point that would eventually fall behind. And they did, when Martin was left unmarked in the middle of the area at the beginning of the second period. Unlike Jack Robinson, who moments earlier had seen a header comfortably collected by Bentley, the former Derby County striker didn’t guide his effort straight into the arms of a grateful goalkeeper. Instead, after Antoine Semenyo had shown Basham a clean pair of heels, he coolly fired home beyond the helpless Wes Foderingham.

As the inquest continued into a poor piece of defending, United survived a huge scare when Semenyo blazed over the same crossbar Ndiaye had also beaten just before the interval. And, once again, that profligacy was punished when Gibbs-White volleyed home after Enda Stevens’ low drive had been blocked.

“We’ll find out if that’s a point gained come the end,” said Heckingbottom. “That’s when we’ll know.”

Bristol City: Bentley, DaSilva (Benarous 48), Atkinson, James, Martin, Weimann, Semenyo (Wells 70), Cundy, Klose, Scott, Massengo. Not used: O’Leary, King, Idehen, Bell, Conway.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Baldock (Osborn 80), Stevens, Fleck (Hourihane 90), Basham, Berge, Egan, Norwood, Robinson, Gibbs-White, Ndiaye (Osula 77). Not used: A Davies, B Davies, Uremovic, Norrington-Davies.

Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).

Attendance: 18,934.