A sparkling display from Nick Blackman failed to spare Sheffield United from the frustration of being held to a draw by opponents still searching for their first win of the League One season.
Blackman, who spent the afternoon involved in his own personal duel with Bury goalkeeper Trevor Carson, departed Bramall Lane clutching the man-of-the-match champagne but without the victory which would have made it taste even sweeter.
A flurry of new faces arrived at United this summer as Danny Wilson revamped his squad in response to last term’s play-off final defeat and, despite encouraging signs from the likes of John Cofie and Tony McMahon, the former Blackburn Rovers centre-forward has emerged as the pick of a talented bunch.
That Blackman admitted the result “felt like a defeat” spoke volumes about the fractious nature of United’s performance against visitors who, but for Mark Cullen’s dreadful miss during the closing stages, would have returned to Gigg Lane celebrating a first win at this stadium since 1925.
But, after being offered the chance to showcase his skills in front of an English audience following three barren years at Ewood Park, United’s young centre-forward was not about to get too despondent.
“It’s great to be getting game time,” Blackman said. “Because that was something I lacked at Blackburn.
“I’m really enjoying myself and I want to show people what I can do. I just want to prove people, not wrong, but show them what I’m capable of. I’ve got plenty of belief in myself.”
“I‘m not really bothered about how I did,” he added. “I’m more bothered about not taking the three points. I got the man-of-the-match award which is nice but, to be honest, I’m not that happy with how I played.
“There were plenty of things I could have done better and there’s still lots of room for improvement.”
Blackman, who captured United’s attention during spells north of the border with Motherwell and Aberdeen, performs with a smile on his face and the gusto of an excitable young puppy fresh off its leash.
The finish which briefly edged the home side in front - until Peter Sweeney’s equally impressive effort restored parity - demonstrated he possesses technique as well as tenacity.
With Richard Cresswell, Shaun Miller and Dave Kitson - who made his debut during the closing stages - on the bench, United boast an embarrassment of riches in attack.
But, Blackman apart, on this occasion they lacked the ingenuity to make it count.
“When you pull on a Sheffield United jersey you don’t need an extra incentive,” he said. “You’ve only got to look around the place, see how many fans we get here, to get that kick.
“Everyone knows that this club should be in the Championship at the very least and making sure that’s the case is what drives us all on.”
On paper, this skirmish in the sunshine was not the most beguiling fixture on last weekend’s footballing calendar.
And so it transpired as, despite two perfectly-executed strikes within the opening 12 minutes, United in particular spent the contest seemingly expecting rather than ensuring something happened.
Beneath the poor passes and dubious decision-making punctuated by occasional moments of supreme quality, the match was positively bristling with sub-plots.
Managers Wilson and Peter Shirtliff, previously brothers-in-arms at both Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon Town, spent the afternoon locked in sporting combat on the touchline.
Paul Gallagher and Tom Hopper, who less than a week ago were playing together for Leicester City’s development squad, found themselves on opposite sides of the divide after securing loan moves to South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester respectively.
Gallagher, previously of Blackburn Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Stoke, has already established a formidable reputation in the game.
Hopper, making only the second senior appearance of his career, arrived at Bury trying to forge one.
Predictably it was Gallagher, replacing the suspended Ryan Flynn, who enjoyed a greater impact here, although, after creating the opening which allowed Blackman to score his fourtth goal of the campaign, he faded from view after the interval.
“I thought Paul did well,” Wilson insisted. “You can see he’s an accomplished player. The ball he produced for Nick showed that.”
United, who entertain Doncaster Rovers tomorrow night, seemed on course for a routine win when Blackman controlled Gallagher’s pass with his chest before blasting a volley beyond Carson from close range.
However Sweeney had other ideas and dispatched a superb free-kick, conceded by David McAllister, over the wall and beyond Mark Howard.
“It was a difficult game,” Shirtliff said. “United caused us problems but I’m proud of the boys.”
Howard later made a fine block to deny Craig Jones but saw his contribution eclipsed by three fine saves from Carson to thwart Blackman.
Maguire also went close before Bury’s Joe Skarz denied United’s talisman a second with a perfectly-timed tackle.
With three debutants in their squad, it was inevitable that Wilson’s charges lacked rhythm.
However, there could be no excuse for the poor marking which presented the impressive Cullen with a chance to pounce in added time.
United, deploying summer signing Darryl Westlake in midfield, breathed a sigh of relief when he inexplicably headed Jones’ centre over the crossbar.
“I got the
better of their keeper once but, credit to him, he was brilliant after that,” Blackman said. “It feels like a loss in the dressing room but that’s because we set ourselves high standards.”
Wilson paid tribute to Nick Montgomery following Saturday’s draw with Bury.
Montgomery, previously United’s longest-serving player, waved goodbye to Bramall Lane before the League One fixture against Peter Shirtliff’s side after sealing a transfer to Central Coast Mariners.
Wilson said: “We have really enjoyed working with Monty. A move to Australia is a great opportunity for him.
“He has opted for a different direction and good luck to him. Over the years he has been tremendous asset to United, giving his all week in and week out.”
Montgomery, who flies to Australia today, received a rapturous welcome when he was introduced to the crowd ahead of kick-off. Former United team mate Phil Jagielka, now of Everton, joined the 30-year-old’s family and friends in the stadium’s ‘Superbox.’.
Wilson added: “Monty deserved that. Without a shadow of a doubt.”