Sheffield United made just one change for this afternoon’s match against League One leaders Bristol City.
Terry Kennedy replaced Jamal Campbell-Ryce while Matt Done, Paul Coutts, John Brayford and Bob Harris all featured in Nigel Clough’s first choice eleven. As expected, Iain Turner continued in goal as Mark Howard recovers from a back complaint. That meant youngster George Willis featured on the bench.
Mutual respect but no intention of settling for a draw.
That was the message delivered by both these teams during the early skirmishes of this League One fixture at Ashton Gate.
Sheffield United showed first when a superb fifth minute pass from John Brayford sent Matt Done scampering into space before an over-elaborate exchange involving Paul Coutts and Michael Doyle allowed Bristol City’s defence to snuff the chance out. Moments later, Steve Cotterill’s team took a much more direct route to goal when a long ball launched towards Matt Smith, the striker Nigel Clough had tried to sign earlier this term, saw him head wide at the far post.
Done, a deadline day signing from Rochdale, was described as a pest by the United manager after scoring on his debut in midweek. He continued in the same vein here, chasing and harassing City’s defender’s whenever they found themselves in possession of the ball.
But, despite their best intentions, clear-cut chances were at a premium during the opening 20 minutes of this intriguing if not exhilarating contest. Jay McEveley sent a long range effort past the foot of Frank Fielding’s left hand post just Jason Holt replaced the injured Jose Baxter after 23 minutes.
Two minutes later, the substitute’s compatriot and fellow midfielder Paul Coutts collected a tactical booking with a trip which prevented City from launching a counter-attack. Chris Basham joined him in referee Graham Salisbury’s notebook 10 minutes before the break for a much more brutal tackle on Joe Bryan.
Basham intervened again, with excellent bravery and timing, to clip the ball away from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas as he crossed the half-way line.
United had been the better side but, in the 42nd minute, a huge stroke of good fortune enabled City to take the lead.
Luke Freeman’s excellent footwork saw him create the space to cross. But his pass only reached MATT SMITH after taking a wicked deflected and the on-loan centre-forward prodded home from close range.
United had been the better of these two impressives sides before the break.
Indeed, City owed their lead to a huge slice of good fortune.
But they started the second in much better fashion with Emmanuel-Thomas escaping the clutches of two markers, powering through midfield, before sending a low shot wide. It was a poor way to end a promising run.
United wrestled back the advantage with a sustained period of pressure which ended with Done appealing, albeit without a huge degree of conviction, for a 51st minute penalty after seizing on a clipped pass from Coutts and wheeling away from Aden Flint.
No matter as, three minutes later, United drew level.
Basham won back possession in midfield and, when the ball found its way towards Brayford, his cross ended with Holt forcing a superb reaction save Frank Fielding before DONE seemingly turned it home.
Michael Doyle was cautioned soon after the re-start and, as Cotterill raged about something on the touchline, Bob Harris blocked Emmanuel-Thomas’ shot on the line.
That intervention proved crucial when, in the 76th minute, DONE pounced again.
Harris passed to Murphy who slid a low cross across City’s box. The former Rochdale striker, who had been a bundle of energy all afternoon, sneaked in front of his marker and bundled home.
MURPHY extended United’s lead when Salisbury played the advantage following a Basham tackle, racing through on the breakaway before beating Fielding who had been left horribly exposed.
Clough, who had seen his opposite number introduce Kieran Agard and Scott Wagstaff for Wade Elliott and Mark Little, withdrew Done and sent on Che Adams with eight minutes of normal time remaining.
In the first of six added minutes, Kieron Freeman replaced Holt.
BRISTOL CITY: Fielding, Little, Williams, Flint, K Smith, Elliott, M Smith, Emmanuel-Thomas, L Freeman, Ayling, Bryan. Substitutes: Richards, Wagstaff, Saville, Cunningham, Agard, Pack, Tavernier.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Turner, Harris, Brayford, Basham, Doyle, Murphy, Baxter, Done, Coutts, McEveley, Kennedy. Substitutes: Willis, McNulty, Campbell-Ryce, Reed, K Freeman, Adams, Holt.
REFEREE: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire),