Sheffield United 0-2 Newcastle United: Confusion caused by VAR helps condemn Chris Wilder's side to defeat
Suspicions that Newcastle would look to test Sheffield United’s aerial strength first arose when the team sheets were published.
They were confirmed within seconds of kick-off when Andy Carroll, making his first Premier League start for the visitors in nearly a decade, immediately became the target of a long diagonal punt towards the edge of the opposition box.
It proved an effective tactic for Steve Bruce’s side; only not in the way their manager had probably intended, with Allan Saint Maximin heading them into an early lead after connecting with Javier Manquillo’s cross.
From that moment on, the match resembled a training ground exercise of attack versus defence with the Newcastle forced to rely on sheer commitment - and the reactions of their goalkeeper Martin Dubravka - to keep United at bay. Until, another controversy involving VAR condemned United to defeat.
The Slovak, who had already tipped a deflected attempt from Enda Stevens over the crossbar, twice denied Oli McBurnie with excellent flying saves. In between, United’s record signing had gone close with a curling effect from just inside the penalty area.
But as Chris Wilder’s side, beaten for the first time by more than a single goal since the beginning of last term, began to set up camp in the Newcastle half, Jonjo Shelvey pounced in almost comical fashion after effectively being allowed to walk the ball into the back of the net.
The former Liverpool midfielder nearly pulled up after being flagged offside. United’s defence, including Dubravka’s counterpart Dean Henderson, stopped. But referee Stuart Attwell refused to blow his whistle and replays, relayed to screens above the press box but not the crowd itself, showed Shelvey had not strayed too far forward. Cue pandemonium in the away end and, as a deflated United began to run out of ideas, moans of complaint about the referral system from the other three stands of the ground.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham (L Freeman 74), Egan, O’Connell, Stevens, Baldock, Norwood (McGoldrick 72), Fleck, Lundstram, Sharp (Mousset 62), McBurnie. Not used: Moore, Robinson, Jagielka, Besic.
Newcastle United: Dubravka, Clark, Dummett, Carroll (Joelinton 72), Shelvey, Saint-Maximin (Atsu 80), Hayden, Willems, Fernandez, Manquillo, Almiron (Krafth 88). Not used: Darlow, Schar, Gayle, Longstaff.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).