The reason why Sheffield United forked-out on Oli McBurnie becomes clear at Brighton
In a sense, it was the perfect Oli McBurnie goal.
Clinical, ever so slightly scruffy and all about sheer, bloody-minded persistence.
That his third of the Premier League season also proved enough to secure this victory over Brighton and Hove Albion - a result which ensured Sheffield United remain unbeaten on the road since January - was a even more fitting tribute to a player who, despite making a steady but unspectacular start to life with Chris Wilder’s side, had earned himself a recall thanks to some tenacious displays during training.
You got the impression, as he described the circumstances behind McBurnie’s journey to Bramall Lane, that United’s manager felt Saturday’s match was made for his record signing.
“I watched Oli under Graham (Potter) at Swansea,” Wilder said, reminding how his opposite number in Sussex had worked with McBurnie at the Liberty Stadium last term. “He was really good.
“I have a lot of respect for Graham and his teams. I had a bit of a hunch that it might be a good day for Oli. He’d been knocking on the door all week, which is something that we look at.
“We thought it might just be his time against his old manager.”
Potter, who took charge of Albion in May, was the person responsible for masterminding United’s last defeat on their travels. So 11 months later, as he prepared to renew his rivalry with the visitors from South Yorkshire, there were fears the former Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and York defender might repeat the trick again.
The only trouble was, from Potter’s perspective, that McBurnie had produced the finish which put them to the sword. And after completing a £20m move to United over the summer, he arrived at the AMEX Stadium in the opposition camp.
Lightning did strike twice. But McBurnie, not Potter, produced the bolt.
United had already seen an effort disallowed by VAR - John Egan adjudged to have handled as he turned the ball home - before the 23-year-old, socks down, shirt out and unshaven - hunted down Dean Henderson’s clearance, held-off two defenders and, refusing to dive despite being hustled by Lewis Dunk, beat Matthew Ryan.
Neal Maupay also had an attempted overturned by the video official, after Martin Montoya had strayed offside. But United, who finished the contest only a point behind fourth-place, were the dominant force for long periods with David McGoldrick and substitute Lys Mousset later going close.
Jack O’Connell also thought he had doubled their lead, after pouncing upon Ryan’s fumble. But Michael Oliver, overseeing operations at Stockley Park, intervened again.
“It’s no extra motivation, no, because he came on against Villa and was excellent for us,” Wilder said, dismissing the suggestion McBurnie might have been minded to impress against Potter. “Listen, the kids we signed are young Championship players. They don’t have years of top-flight experience behind them. We just felt it was the right time for him.”
Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Dunk, Stephens, Maupay, Trossard (Murray 46), Gross (Connolly 46), Webster, Mooy, Montoya (Bissouma 55), Propper, Burn. Not used: Button, Duffy, Bernardo, Alzate.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock, Stevens, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Norwood (Besic 83), L Freeman (Osborn 53), Lundstram, McGoldrick, McBurnie (Mousset 65). Not used: Verrips, Sharp, Robinson, Jagielka.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside).