Jose Baxter’s superb second-half goal put Crawley Town to the sword at Bramall Lane this afternoon.
The Liverpudlian swept home a memorable 48th minute finish to hand Nigel Clough’s side their first home League One win of the new campaign.
But after spuring several excellent chances to extend their lead, United were forced to negotiate safe passage through a nervous conclusion to this match which drew an 18,178 crowd.
Both these teams have embarked upon heavy recruitment drives during the transfer window but elected to make a combined total of only three changes to their respective starting elevens here.
United’s solitary alteration, Michael Higdon, was the target for Ben Davies’ second minute cross
and, despite failing to gain a clean connection on his colleague’s delivery, headed over the
crossbar when referee Andy D’Urso judged a visiting player had in fact got the final touch.
Again, Davies was the provider.
Although the contest failed to spark until the closing stages of the first period, United nevertheless were more accomoplished in possession than their rivals from Sussex.
Baxter, who has been in impressive form so far this term, constantly searched for pockets of space where his technical skills could do Crawley damage while Alcock, Davies and Basham
pieced together some intricate exchanges on the right flank.
Higdon, providing Davies and Jamie Murphy with an obvious target whenever they made progress forward, glanced wide again soon after from the Scot’s centre but Crawley, having seen Jimmy Smith flash a speculative long-range attempt wide, saw Bobson Bawling force Mark Howard to turn an angled 14th minute shot wide.
Basham and Baxter won a corner four minutes later which saw the latter’s close range strike deflected into the the side-netting.
Nevertheless, Crawley continued to pose problems on the counter-attack with Alcock forced to track Young across two third of the pitch when they cleared the resulting set-piece.
Likewise when, in the 24th minute, Harrison McGahey had a lucky escape after clipping Izale McLeod’s heels right on the edge of the box. D’Urso, though, deemed no offence had taken place despite the fact that Crawley seemed to have every right to be aggrieved.
Murphy saw a volley spiral behind for a corner as United regathered their composure.
Henderson was cautioned in the 31st minute for felling Davies on the halfway line before being joined in D’Urso’s notebook by Basham in the 41st minute.
But United were only a fraction away from edging themselves in front eight minutes from the interval when Jensen bravely smothered Davies’ excellent free-kick under severe pressure from the onrushing trio of Baxter, Higdon and Basham.
Crawley also went close when McEveley and Alcock flung themselves at attempts from Gwion
Edwards and Bawling during a scramble in front of Howard.
Clough had become increasingly animated as the first half had progressed but his mood changed three minutes after the re-start when Baxter’s superb finished broke the deadlock.
Michael Doyle, the United captain, found Alcock who in turn handed possession to the former Everton and Oldham Athletic attacker.
Baxter composed himself as the ball arrived at his feet and powered an unstoppable long-range shot into the top corner of Jensen’s net.
He went close again soon after following Murphy’s industrious run across the Crawley penalty
area while only Henderson’s acrobatic block prevented Higdon from claiming a second as the pressure on Crawley grew.
John Gregory’s team established some decent field position of their own soon after that flurry of chances but United roused themselves again with Jensen tipping Basham’s prodded attempt
away to safety after Davies, producing a fine individual display, had prised apart Crawley’s defence.
Baxter received a deserved standing ovation when he was replaced by Ryan Flynn with 21 minutes left to play. He appeared to be carrying some sort of injury but took his place on the bench rather than heading straight for the dressing room.
Tomlin and Young exchanged places for Crawley in the 76th minute while Reed came on for Higdon soon after as United introduced fresh legs.
That was the cue for Murphy, who often played as a striker for Motherwell before moving south of the border, to adopt a more central position.
Harris entered the fray when McEveley departed having produced a solid defensive display in the 87th minute.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard, Alcock, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Baxter, Collins, Davies, McGahey, Eveley, Higdon. Substitutes: Harris, Flynn, McNulty, McGinn, Campbell-Ryce, Reed, Turner.
CRAWLEY TOWN: Jensen, Oyebajo, Dickson, Henderson, Leacock, Edwards, Smith, McLeod, Walsh, Young, Bawling. Substitutes:Bradley, Banya, Rose, Tomlin, O’Connor.
REFEREE: Andy D’Urso.