Reaction to creditible draw underlines Sheffield United's amazing progress

Six months ago, as they were preparing to embark upon their Premier League journey, reaching the 40 point threshold regarded as a guarantee of survival promised to be a celebratory moment for Chris Wilder and his players.

Sunday, 23rd February 2020, 1:02 pm
Updated Sunday, 23rd February 2020, 2:25 pm

That it turned out instead to be “tinged”, by the manager’s own admission, with “a little bit of disappointment” should be taken as compliment rather than a criticism when this squad of supposed journeymen and plucky triers sit down to digest the post-match commentary.

Enda Stevens’ outrageous strike, which came following a typically determined start, appeared to have set United on course for the win which would have lifted them above Tottenham Hotspur into fifth with only 11 games remaining.

Instead, after failing to land a decisive blow following Neal Maupay’s equaliser for Brighton and Hove Albion, Wilder’s side were forced to settle for a draw and the consolation, if it can be described as that, of hitting the pre-season target many commentators and so-called experts felt would prove beyond them.

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“If there is any, then it’s a very slight tinge of disappointment,” Wilder replied, when asked to provide his thoughts on the outcome. “Very slight. Only a little bit, a very little bit in fact.

“The players couldn’t have given me anymore, they couldn’t have given the football club anymore.

“There was a change of approach from Brighton. Even though some people have opinions, I won’t, because there’s plenty of ways to win a football match.”

Wilder was referring to the sight of opponents used to dominating possession spending long periods of the match without the ball. It reflected, his counterpart Graham Potter later admitted, United’s ability to suffocate visiting teams with sheer pressure rather than any lack of adventure on Albion’s part.

Brighton and Hove Albion's Aaron Connolly (left) and Sheffield United's George Baldock battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Stevens, who was later withdrawn through injury, has been in superb form all term. His goal, when Albion failed to clear a corner, was the latest addition to what has been a superb body of work; powering an angled drive into the roof of Mat Ryan’s net after calculating exactly the right angle.

Maupay, who had been tracked by Wilder last summer when it became clear he would be leaving Brentford, pounced from close range soon after when Aaron Mooy’s set-piece was diverted back across the box.

Lewis Dunk, Oli McBurnie and John Fleck, who agreed a new contract ahead of kick-off, all traded chances during the second-half without success,

“They are usually possession based,” Wilder said, referring to 15th placed Albion. “We moved it around a big side, very well, knowing they have got some really talented players.”

Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens (Osborn 46), Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Berge (Lundstram 81), Sharp (McGoldrick 74), McBurnie. Not used: Verrips, Jagielka, McGoldrick, Mousset, Retsos.

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Duffy, Dunk, Bissouma, Webster, Mooy, Schelotto (Trossard 74), Propper, Burn, Maupay (Bernardo 90), Murray (Connolly 74). Not used: Button, Gross, Jahanbakhsh, March.

Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).

Attendance: 31,888.