How Sheffield United moved to within two points of the Champions League places

It is a measure of the progress Sheffield United have made in recent months that, despite the opposition’s pedigree and Russian benefactor, Chris Wilder’s side started this match as strong favourites.

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 6:03 pm
Simon Francis of Bournemouth tackles Oli McBurnie of Sheffield United during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Confidence might be an issue for AFC Bournemouth at present, as some indifferent results since these two clubs met on the opening weekend of the Premier League season have gnawed away at their self-belief.

But thanks in no small part to Maxim Demin’s generosity, there is still no shortage of calibre among the visitors’ ranks, with Nathan Ake, Callum Wilson and Joshua King all at Eddie Howe’s disposal here.

So perhaps it was no surprise that United were required to show plenty of grit - not to mention self-restraint in the face of some cringeworthy histrionics - to secure the win which lifted them to fifth in the table. Remarkably, with only two points now separating them from the Champions League places, after only being promoted from the Championship last term.

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“We were hanging on at times,” Wilder said, after watching Billy Sharp and John Lundstram pounce following Callum Wilson’s strike. “But we didn’t go under and we really went for it after the break.”

“There’s no let up or comfortable footballers in our changing room,” he added. “They all feel they’ve got something to prove.”

Wilson’s opener didn’t scramble United’s brains. After a positive start - which saw John Fleck draw a fine block from Simon Francis - Howe’s men had already confused them with some intricate movement off the ball.

But, having conceded the initiative thanks to some uncharacteristically indecisive play, the hosts did seem intent on playing themselves into trouble against a team with the highest of high presses.

Sheffield United climbed to fifth in the Premier League after beating AFC Bournemouth

So it fell to Sharp, after a fractious opening period, to shake Wilder’s men back into life.

The centre-forward, who had claimed a late equaliser at the Vitality Stadium six months earlier, showcased his finishing skills by turning home following a scramble in the box as Enda Stevens, Sander Berge and John Egan all recycled Oliver Norwood’s corner.

The second-half, which saw Wilder’s patience finally snap following some embarrassing Bournemouth theatrics, was a much more purposeful affair.

Sandwiched in between a touchline spat - which saw a security guard intervene as United’s bench and Bournemouth’s players squared-up as Dan Gosling, who made a miraculous recovery, lay prostrate on the turf - was another chance for Sharp and a fine save by Dean Henderson to deny Ryan Fraser.

Oli McBurnie and substitute Lys Mousset also had attempts smothered by defenders in quick succession before the latter, facing his former employers for the first time since joining United in July, squared for Lundstram to pounce.

“The attitude, and the drive of the lads, it always gives them a chance,” Wilder said. “All we are looking at now is the next game, and then the game after that.”

Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens, Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Berge (Lundstram 60), McBurnie, Sharp (Mousset 74). Not used: Verrips, Jagielka, McGoldrick, Osborn, Retsos.

AFC Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Francis, Gosling, Ake, Surman (Solanke 86), Smith, Rico, Fraser (Stanislas 84), H Wilson (King 72), Billing, C Wilson. Not used: Boruc, S Cook, L Cook, Stacey.

Referee: Jonathan Moss (Wearside).

Attendance: 30,361