Sheffield United 2-3 Bristol City: Chris Wilder’s men take the lead twice but suffer untimely defeat
Less than 24 hours after West Bromwich Albion turned what some people had claimed was a three way battle for automatic promotion into a four horse race, Chris Wilder issued an impassioned call to arms.
"I make no excuse for continually emphasising the importance of vocal support from our punters," the Sheffield United manager wrote in his pre-match programme notes. "As we get closer and closer to the finishing line, extra vigour needs to come from both on and off the pitch."
Wilder's words, at the beginning of a typically forthright article, betrayed the importance of this game and the position his team now finds itself in.
The crowd responded and for long periods, although they were far from their breathless best, United's players did too.
But so did Bristol City who, after twice dragging themselves off the canvas, condemned Wilder's men to a rare but untimely defeat thanks to Andreas Weimann's hat-trick.
United began the afternoon second in the table and a point above Leeds, who they had beaten at Elland Road before the international break. They finished it in third, after Marcelo Bielsa's men recorded a dramatic win over Millwall, and four ahead of fourth-placed West Brom.
The contest appeared destined for a different conclusion when Billy Sharp fired United into the lead and, after Weimann had grabbed his first, Scott Hogan restored their advantage. But two quick-fire efforts from the former Aston Villa and Derby County forward, turned the fixture on its head.
Despite some indifferent results of late, United always suspected City would prove difficult opposition given the talent at Lee Johnson's disposal. Indeed, probably as part of a psychological ploy designed to eke something extra out of his players, Wilder had happily discussed at length how today's visitors triumphed when the two clubs met at Ashton Gate in September earlier in the week. With missed opportunities responsible for United's downfall six months ago, he will have been delighted to see his charges begin the afternoon in such positive fashion.
But once City's heads had cleared, after Sharp's dramatic intervention, they posed a serious threat. Indeed, although it has been over three months since United had last conceded a league goal on home soil, they will not have been surprised to see Weimann level the scores with another header. It was the first of his three goal haul.
Chris Basham, restored to his preferred position of centre-half, set the tone for a furious opening period when he burst through City's defence with a run which began deep inside United's half. But after collecting his team mate's pass on the edge of the six yard box, Sharp's shot on the turn was smothered. No matter as, moments later, the United captain turned home at the far post to claim his 24th of the campaign. Not a bad return for someone who, beyond the confines of this stadium at least, has spent the past too summers being told he is too old and too slow to score goals in the second tier of English football.
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Wilder made one change to his starting eleven for United's first appearance since the international break, with Kieran Dowell returning and Martin Cranie dropping to the bench. It enabled United to discover their rhythm early on but City gathered momentum as the afternoon wore on and equalised when Weimann's looping header spiralled away from Henderson's outstretched palm and landed in the bottom corner of the net. The United goalkeeper, who had earlier done well to parry Josh Brownhill's long-range effort clear, could do nothing on this occasion.
United, below their best before the break, introduced Hogan as the second-half was about to get underway. But the action, at least from Wilder's perspective, continued to be far too open as Korey Smith and Weimann both tested Henderson's handling.
Hogan's first contribution was a purposeful charge forward but his attempted pass to Sharp was blocked. Another, soon after, flew just behind his fellow striker.
As United gathered a head of steam, Hogan got his reward - and first goal since arriving on loan from Villa - when he bundled home George Baldock's deep cross. But after Jack O'Connell had left the pitch with an injury, City restored parity again when Weimann claimed his second after hooking home substitute Kasey Palmer's centre. The Austrian netted for a third time soon after bearing down unmarked on Henderson.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O'Connell (Johnson 77), Stevens, Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Dowell (Hogan 46), Sharp, McGoldrick. Not used: Moore, Coutts, Stearman, Cranie, Washington.
Bristol City: O'Leary, Dasilva, Webster, Wright (Palmer 73), Smith (Paterson 73), Brownhill, Diedhiou, Weimann (Baker 86), Pack, Kalas, Hunt. Not used: Marinovic,Taylor, Kelly, Eliasson.
Referee: James Lingington (Newport).