Nigel Clough doesn’t do knee-jerk reactions. Win, lose or draw, and his demeanour stays pretty much the same.
But the imperturbable mask slipped a little after last night’s game against Peterborough which saw Sheffield United slip to an agonising defeat.
This was no time for the visitors, who saw Jack Payne and Conor Washington cancel-out Matt Done’s opener, to record their first ever victory and goals, at Bramall Lane.
“There was a real chance for us to put some pressure on the teams above us there and we’ve allowed it to pass us by,” Clough said. “We should have seen the game out, absolutely no question about it.
“We’ve got to respond and bounce straight back though because we’re not giving anything up yet.”
Clough had been in typically phlegmatic mood when assessing the possible implications of this fixture on Monday morning. It was, he argued, far too early to make any pronouncements about who might or might not secure automatic promotion because the division remains in a state of flux.
Results elsewhere only make it even more disappointing to lose, because we could have really made some inroads there. But, at the same time, at least it hasn’t inflicted too much damage. We pick ourselves up and go again.Blades boss Nigel Clough
United trailed second-place by a 18 points after losing at Gillingham last month. Six matches later, they prepared to host the visitors from London Road having cut that gap to nine with a game in hand. Results elsewhere only underlined what a golden opportunity United, previously unbeaten in six, had missed.
“That only makes it even more disappointing,” Clough said. “Because we could have really made some inroads there.
“But, at the same time, at least it hasn’t inflicted too much damage. We pick ourselves up and again.”
United dominated the early exchanges with Paul Coutts, always ready to give or receive the ball, bringing rhythm to midfield. Marc McNulty, Jamie Murphy and Michael Doyle all tested Ben Alnwick’s handling before the break although Peterborough, most notably Kyle Vassell, proved dangerous opponents.
Indeed, as the first-half had unfolded, so their physical superiority became increasingly apparent. When United did find some space, almost always down the flanks, the execution of their final pass or shot left plenty to be desired.
That was until Done, scoring for the fifth time in seven outings, punished Ricardo Santos’ howler. It was a trademark goal which stemmed from his refusal to give up on a seemingly lost cause. But Peterborough demonstrated exactly the same quality with Payne and substitute Washington leading the comeback.
“We weathered a storm and the lads worked it out,” Robertson, Clough’s counterpart across the technical area, said. “Credit to the lads and our fans for that matter because they didn’t get on Ricardo’s back. Just on with the job.”
Peterborough had made the journey a north a very different beast to the one which finished sixth in the table last term. Not least because Darren Ferguson, the man responsible, is no longer at the helm having parted company with the club by mutual consent 11 days ago.
Nor do the visitors adopt the same cavalier approach which saw them score 37 times on their travels during the previous season. United, meanwhile, prepared for their 33rd match of their campaign knowing that only five teams boasted a better goals per game ratio throughout the present campaign than themselves.
“It was a lovely finish from Matty,” Clough said.
“A real bit of class. Matty gives nothing up and we’d have loved to have left him out there but he was shattered.”
Clough made only one and that was enforced with Terry Kennedy sustaining a knee injury during the draw at Crawley Town. Given that it was McNulty, not Craig Alcock or Kieron Freeman, who received the nod suggested United would look to attack straight from the off.
They did exactly that with Done’s pace punching a hole in Peterborough’s rearguard as early as the third minute only for Coutts to be crowded-out after choosing to delay his shot.
Moments later, on United’s next drive forward, McNulty saw a looping effort helped over the crossbar by Alnwick before Bob Harris underlined his fine recent form by carressing the ball just wide from long-range.
Vassell’s near miss briefly stemmed the tide before Murphy and Doyle both forced Alnwick to smother as United wrestled back the initiative.
Vassell emerged as Peterborough’s go-to man again midway through the opening period but failed to hit the target despite peeling away from his marker at the far post.
But Done, profiting from another piece of inventive play from Harris, was inches away from handing United a 32nd minute lead when the full-back powered a low centre across Alnwick’s six yard box.
Peterborough had grown in stature as the evening progressed. Likewise Vassell who blazed over soon after the interval before, at the other end of the pitch, Murphy followed suit. Louis Reed had barely broken sweat before supplying the pass which led to Done pouncing in the 65th minute although, in truth, his goal owed more to Santos’ mistake than the substitute’s invention. The Peterborough defender tried to control rather than clear a speculative ball which allowed Done to seize possession and head home at the second attempt after Alnwick had saved his initial effort.
Payne struck the foot of Turner’s post as Peterborough recovered in impressive fashion before equalising with a carbon copy effort at the death. Then Washington did the rest.
“We had the belief we could do it,” Robertson said. “And we did.”
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Turner 8, Harris 6, Brayford 6, Basham 8, Flynn 7, Doyle 6, Murphy 7, McNulty 6 (Reed 63), Done 7 (Freeman 81), Coutts 7 (Holt 46), McEveley 7. Not used: Alcock, Willis, Adams, Calvert-Lewin.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED: Alnwick 8, Smith 6, Ntlhe 7, Bostwick 6, Taylor 7, Payne 7, James 7 (Mclean 79), Vassell 7 (Washington 56), Newell 7, Santos 6, Zakuani 6. Not used: Burgess, Norris, Anderson, Henry, Beautyman.
REFEREE: Oliver Langford (West Midlands), 8
CAUTIONS: Payne (30), Vassell (41), Taylor (58)
RED CARDS: None
GOALS: Done (65), Payne (88),
PLAYER-WATCH: Matt Done has brought a new dimension to Sheffield United’s attack and is a blur of energy too. Never gives defenders a moment’s peace.
VIEWPOINT: Sheffield United took the lead and will feel they should have seen the game out. But even before scoring two late efforts, Peterborough had already shown themselves to be dangerous opponents.