Match analysis: Bradford City 0 Sheffield United 2 (Bob Harris, Marc McNulty)

Bob Harris celebrates his goal
Bob Harris celebrates his goal
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Points, not posturing, decide battles for promotion.

Bob Harris nevertheless insisted this triumph over opponents also harbouring genuine aspirations of reaching the Championship next season marked an important step forward in the evolution of Nigel Clough’s new-look Sheffield United team.

“I’m not really bothered about what the rest of the division think,” Harris, whose goal set them on the path to victory, said. “It’s more about us as a group.

“That’s not being arrogant. It’s just confidence and knowing that, no matter what else happens, we are capable of going out there and getting that win.

“Because it’s come against a very tough bunch of lads, I reckon we’ve just got a massive result.”

United climbed to seventh, six points behind second-placed Peterborough with a game in hand, after nullifying the phsyical threat posed by Bradford City who, despite being reduced to 10 men when captain Stephen Darby was dismissed just seconds after the restart, fought until the final whistle.

The visitors, as both Clough and Harris later acknowledged, were far from perfect, and their failure to convert one of numerous first-half chances could have proven costly.

However, with Paddy McCarthy and Chris Basham both producing their best performances in a United jersey, they were able to limit the damage caused by the dangerous James Hanson, although Jay McEveley sustained a shoulder injury after falling awkwardly following one challenge with the towering marksman.

“We demand a lot from ourselves and each other,” Harris said. “If you don’t do that then you’re in the wrong game.

“Ask everyone who’s come here and we’ll all say it’s because this is an ambitious club. We’re not shying away from the fact that we want to go up because if we were happy just to be swimming around it midtable, well, that would be completely unacceptable.

“We all think Sheffield United, when you look at its size, stature and support, is in a false position right now. We’ll do everything we can to make it happen and to try and get to where we all want to be.”

“Our biggest attribute is probably character. We’re all in it together with the same ambition and aim.

“We can play good football but we can also dig in, mix it up and keep going right until the very end. We showed that here ,and we had to as well because, credit to City, they kept on asking questions.

“But I don’t believe anyone can deny we deserved to come through.”

The fact that Clough was able to name and date the last time United’s defence remained intact in League One competition away from home - “Tranmere Rovers, Easter Monday” - illustrates the importance he affords clean sheets.

Seven of the players who featured in January’s draw between these teams have since left Bramall Lane and that exodus has changed the entire dynamic of the former England international’s squad.

Previously assured at the back but tentative going forward, they entered Saturday’s contest knowing that only Yeovil Town, who visit South Yorkshire tomorrow, Scunthorpe and Crewe Alexandra had conceded more goals this term but finished it boasting the division’s eighth best attack.

Had Jose Baxter and Jamie Murphy not missed excellent opportunities to break the deadlock before Harris’ intervention, their margin of victory could have been even greater, although Mark Howard did produce a superb save to deny Alan Sheehan during the closing stages while City’s Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates also struck the woodwork.

Although Phil Parkinson’s side impressed with their effort and application, United went about their business with greater wit, guile and class.

A fact underlined by Darby’s careless red card and the slip by Andrew Davies which presented substitute Marc McNulty with the chance to effectively seal the match.

“We know there are areas where we can improve,” Harris said after scoring for the first time since October 2012. “But we are also attacking teams and creating openings and good positions.

“If we weren’t, then that would be a problem. But the fact is, we are.

“I’d not been on target for quite a while and that’s an area of my game where I want to contribute more. If I can get a good run in the side then that’s something I’ll be looking to

do and, if I can, then I’m sure the rest of the lads will be pleased.

“It’s not about me as an individual. It’s all about the group.”

City started brightly when Alan Sheehan, who was tormented by his former Notts County colleague, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, throughout, drilled a free-kick just wide before drawing an excellent reaction block from Howard after Harris’ intervention.

But United announced their arrival when Murphy scooped a close-range attempt straight at Jordan Pickford after combining with Baxter.

The Scot, this time profiting from Campbell-Ryce’s approach play, went close again with a volley soon after while Baxter twice tried and failed to convert angled drives, the latter following Basham’s deft touch in midfield.

When Darby hauled back Murphy, having earlier been punished for a foul on Stefan Scougall, City retreated back towards the edge of their own area, which allowed Harris to sweep home in style.

Referee Simon Hooper, who had no option but to send Darby to the stands, inexplicably refused to award Scougall a penalty when he was wrestled to the floor by Rory McArdle, and Parkinson’s men nearly took full advantage of their fortunate escape when Sheehan tested Howard.

Kennedy saw a header rebound off a post but Davies’ miscontrol allowed McNulty, netting for the fourth time in sixth outings, to demonstrate the prowess in front of goal which prompted Clough to describe him as “the best finisher at the club”.

Although Yeates saw a centre shave the crossbar as City searched for a route back, Harris said: “We were patient when we had to be and managed the game well. When I arrived last season we were something like third from bottom but we’ve had a much better start this time around, which is encouraging.

“I don’t think we’ve always had the breaks or the results that we’ve deserved lately, but if we can go on another good run then we’ll be building from a much stronger base.”

BRADFORD CITY: Pickford 6, Darby 5, A Davies 6, Sheehan 6, McLean* 5, Hanson*** 7, Clarke** 7, Yeates 7, Kennedy 6, Routis 6, McArdle 6. Substitutes: Williams, Meredith, Dolan, Knott**(57) 6, Stead***(74), Stead, Morais*(53) 6, Halliday. SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 7, Alcock 7, Harris 7, Basham 8, Doyle 7, Murphy 6, Scougall**6, Baxter 6, McEveley*6, Campbell-Ryce***7, McCarthy 8. Substitutes: Turner, Flynn***(87), McNulty**(79), B Davies, McGahey*(23) 6, Porter, Reed.