Sheffield United beat Wigan Athletic on a longer Good Friday than it should have been
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Still, as Paul Heckingbottom reminded whilst surveying the Championship table afterwards, results are all important along the finishing straight. Comfortably positioned in second and with another match chalked off, he could be forgiven for refusing to dwell on United’s profligacy, which on more than one occasion during the second-half threatened to breathe new life into their visitors’ challenge.
“At this stage, it’s all about points,” Heckingbottom said, after watching Iliman’s Ndiaye’s early effort prove enough to secure all three. “You can’t call any victory comfortable but I think it was dominant. We’re at the top of the league for creating big chances and top for missing them. Hopefully we’re saving them all up for when we need them.”
Despite dominating possession and also field position, United struggled to take the game away from their opponents following Ndiaye’s opener. One of those ridiculously gifted performers who seems attached to the ball, the 23-year-old continued to torment Wigan’s defence all afternoon with his seemingly never-ending repertoire of flicks, fancy moves and tricks.
United nearly paid the price for failing to convert their chances, when Wes Foderingham prevented Thelo Aasgaard’s header from reaching the back of the net.
“I know people were expecting us to roll them over,” Heckingbottom continued, predicting Shaun Maloney’s men have enough to lift themselves off the bottom of the division. “But they’ve not seen as much of Wigan as I have.”
The first of five home assignments in their next six outings, United gave it the big licks beforehand. A video message from “the gaffer” imploring the fans to crank up the volume was followed by an equally impassioned plea by the in-house PA announcer. The players did their bit to stoke the atmosphere too. The understanding between James McAtee and Tommy Doyle was in evidence when the latter, charging onto a dragged back corner from his fellow Manchester City loanee, fired just over Ben Amos’ crossbar. But it was Ndiaye, scoring for the 13th time this season, who truly lit the touch paper under the fixture. Sander Berge foraged out possession, McAtee burst forward and when the youngster, who is growing in stature every single week, whipped a superb cross beyond Ben Amos the Senegal international duly prodded home. No matter how the rest of the campaign unfolds, one suspects Ndiaye is Premier League bound next season.
“He’s a joy to watch at times but he can do better,” Heckingbottom noted. “He can improve.”
Amos produced the type of save goalkeepers really shouldn’t make when he tipped Billy Sharp’s shot over soon after. The United captain, recalled to the starting eleven at Oli McBurnie’s expense, was just about to raise his arms aloft in celebration when the former England under-21 international diverted it into The Kop.
Wigan threatened in flashes. But United continued to dominate, with Tendayi Darikwa forced to take evasive action when McAtee darted through. McAtee went close again early in the second period, after Sharp had also gone close.
“We got there,” said Heckingbottom. “And that’s what’s important.”