AFC Bournemouth 1-1 Sheffield United: Billy Sharp scores as Blades return to the big time
Six hundred and thirty nine weeks after their last Premier League outing, Sheffield United nearly, so very nearly, suffered a desperately frustrating return to top-flight competition.
Trailing to Chris Mepham's goal midway through the second period, after creating numerous chances against AFC Bournemouth, Chris Wilder's side appeared destined to begin the new season with a defeat until one of their most reliable players came to the rescue.
Introduced as a substitute only minutes earlier, Billy Sharp claimed the goal which ensured United secured the point their performance deserved against energetic opponents. It was a reminder that, despite a flurry of new arrivals at Bramall Lane this summer, he has no plans to be satisfied with a supporting role.
The strike, with around two minutes of normal time remaining, was a typically predatory finish. George Baldock's centre sliced through the hosts' rearguard and, in the melee which followed, £20m signing Oli McBurnie went agonisingly close. But when Sharp received an opportunity, he eagerly took it before wheeling away to celebrate in front of the ecstatic away supporters. A lifelong Blade, no one sighed either when he kissed the badge on his shirt.
After so long away, United very nearly announced their return with a bang when, with only a minute on the clock, David McGoldrick was denied by Aaron Ramsdale. John Lundstram, a surprise selection in midfield, created the chance with a lofted pass which sailed over the heads of Bournmouth's centre-halves before falling at the striker's feet. Ramsdale, previously of United and another left-field choice, looked horribly exposed as McGoldrick bore down on goal but did well to prevent the ball reaching the back of the net.
United were quickly reminded, however, that no game at this level will be a walk in the park. Bournemouth might not be the biggest or most iconic name in the division. But, under Eddie Howe's tutelage, they pass the ball with pace and precision. For the next quarter-of-an hour, United found themselves chasing it before Callum Robinson called Ramsdale into action again. His shot from the edge of the box, scrambled away to safety by the 21-year-old, came following the visitors first prolonged spell of possession since that opening burst.
Keeping their discipline and maintaining their shape, United enjoyed another chance at the start of the second period when Lundstram and McGoldrick combined again; the latter's effort curling wide of the far post.
But it was Bournemouth who took the lead following a scramble in front of Dean Henderson just past the hour. Nathan Ake's overhead kick was scrambled clear and so too was Callum Robinson's prodded attempt from close range. Although Henderson did superbly well to get a hand to that shot, he was powerless to stop Mepham turning home.
But as the celebrations began in the home sections of the crowd, Sharp opened his account for the campaign and ensured United's got off to a more than satisfactory start.
AFC Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Cook, Ake, King, Lerma, Rico, Mepham, Billing, Smith, Wilson (Solanke 89), Fraser. Not used: Boruc, Surman, Ibe, Daniels, Wilson, Simpson.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Stevens, Baldock, Basham (Sharp 81), Egan, O'Connell, Norwood, Fleck, Lundstram (L Freeman 78), McGoldrick (McBurnie 63), Robinson. Not used: Moore, Jagielka, Osborn, Besic.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).