Sheffield United: What their courage at Spurs told us about The Blades' Premier League pedigree
More than their victory over Arsenal or enterprising performance against European Champions Liverpool, this was the moment which revealed why Sheffield United have adapted so quickly to Premier League football.
Courage, determination, focus and a true sense of purpose condensed into one 20 minute period.
After falling behind at Tottenham Hotspur and then seeing David McGoldrick's 'equaliser' wiped from the scoresheet by VAR, Chris Wilder's players could easily have crumbled under a weight of disappointment inside the hosts' cavernous arena. Instead, displaying great psychological fortitude and no little skill, they kept on pressing, kept on believing before eventually finding a way back into the contest when George Baldock restored parity following Heung-Min Son's opener. His finish not only lifted United to fifth in the table, just seven months after being promoted, it also ensured an unbeaten away record stretching back to January remained intact.
"It was one of the things that I admitted during the build-up, at times it's not always a win you feel more satisfied with," Wilder said. "This is certainly up there with the outstanding performances we've had on the road during my time at the football club. From Enda's mistake - he's not made many by the way - then to score a great goal in my opinion, to see it chalked off, and then go again."
The error Wilder was referring to came early in the second-half when Stevens, who as his manager underlined as made precious few in United colours, tried to pass the ball to John Egan rather than simply clear his lines. It was a misjudgement, but not nearly as big a one as some of those made by the match officials. The visitors, already smarting from referee Graham Scott's refusal to issue Eric Dier a second yellow card, were left utterly bewildered by Jonathan Moss' interpretation of events during the build-up to McGoldrick's strike. Taking nearly four minutes to disallow the centre-forward's effort from his video analysis suite at Stockley Park, the 49-year-old's decision to rule John Lundstram had strayed offside during the build-up not only appeared harsh, but also seemed to contravene competition guidelines about how the review system should be employed. Given the dynamic of the fixture at the time - United, by Mauricio Pochettino's own admission had been the dominant force - Wilder was understandably still frustrated when he discussed the matter afterwards.
"It does frustrate the players because we should be talking about them, about the upcoming game and how well they've done," he sighed. "It will nick a bit of the limelight but hopefully it won't because I thought they were outstanding. To come here, and perform like that, it wasn't a backs to the wall performance by any means. In any way shape or form."
One of the most impressive aspects of United's work this term is the boldness of their approach. Rather than simply trying to contain some of the biggest names in the country, Wilder's men set out to pose questions of their own. It was a trend which continued here, with John Fleck, Oliver Norwood and Lundstram all going close as United seized the initiative. The latter, who struck a post with fierce drive following Jack O'Connell's cut-back, also dragged a Stevens centre wide from close-range before Lys Mousset, beating Dier for pace and Davinson Sanchez for ingenuity, directed a shot inches past of the far post. Son's intervention, after Dele Alli's assist had prompted a rare miscalculation from Stevens, did not reflect the flow of the game.
"The proof is in the pudding in terms of how we played," Wilder said. "We didn't just boot it clear and chase after it. There was a lot of talk about us at the start of the season. But I'm delighted with the attitude of the players, how they crack on and push again. There was no panic in our play when we went 1-0 down. Instead, we came up with a good period where I thought we always looked as if we could get back into the game."
That culminated with Baldock beating Paulo Gazzaniga from distance with a shot which may or may not have been intended as a pass towards the onrushing Chris Basham.
"I went for what you'd call the position of maximum opportunity," he acknowledged afterwards.
But if it was luck, then United certainly deserved a slice of good fortune having seen Dier escape a red card when, having already been cautioned for a foul on Baldock, he brought down Mousset early in the first-half. Scott elected to only warn the Spurs centre-half. But he took Norwood's name when he committed the exact same challenge on an opponent.
"I'm not talking about sending players off but, Olly Norwood, well," Wilder said. "For the referee to talk about him (Mousset) going away from goal, it's rubbish. Olly was 30 yards inside their half. Mousset was 30 yards inside their half. A lot oif things went against us but the attitude was first class."
Spurs had their chances, with Harry Kane spuring one from inside the area and Basham producing a superb tackle to deny Son another during the closing stages. Dean Henderson also thwarted Lucus Moura at the death but, as Wilder insisted: "The most ardent of Spurs fans can't say we didn't deserve to take anything."
"They had a bit of a a 'go' at the death, Dean has had to make one really good save, but the result was one we deserved and maybe, if we were a little bit greedy, it was a game I thought we could win," he added.