Sheffield United make a statement in the race for Europe
Billy Sharp believes Sheffield United proved an important point about their ability to last the pace in the race for European football next season before heading to Dubai for their winter break.
With Sunday’s victory over AFC Bournemouth lifting Chris Wilder’s side to fifth in the Premier League table and within touching distance of fourth-placed Chelsea, the centre-forward was impressed by his team mate’s ability to grind out a result despite falling behind early on.
“Conditions weren’t the best but we dug in,” Sharp, who scored United’s equaliser before John Lundstram claimed the winner, said. “I thought we started well, other than letting one in, but then found a route back in. We found a way.”
As Sharp admitted, United were not at their fluent best for long periods of last weekend’s contest; most notably after Callum Robinson had edged the visitors in front.
But with Sharp drawing Wilder’s men level, Dean Henderson’s superb save from Ryan Fraser proved crucial as Lundstram went on to score the decisive goal during the closing stages.
United have now won all three of their outings since losing to Manchester City, the reigning champions, on January 21st.
With Wilder later describing Henderson as “the best” goalkeeper in the competition on current form, Sharp said: “Deano made a great save but he’s there to do that and he loves getting us out of trouble at times.
“When we came in (at half-time) level, we knew we were kicking towards The Kop and everyone talked about how that’s our favourite way of playing because it seems to suck the ball into the goal at times.”
“When we got back in, I thought there was only going to be one team that would go on and win it,” Sharp added. “We created enough and, to begin with even though they defended corners and the like really well, we were only millimeters away from getting on the end of things.”
United will need to show similar durability between now and the end of the campaign, as the scramble for a top five finish enters a critical phase.
Like Bournemouth, two of their next three opponents are fighting against relegation while Newcastle, who triumphed at Bramall Lane earlier this term, are known for their conservative strategies under former Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce. The trip to St James’ Park is followed by meeting with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, who are also eyeing a place in the Champions League or Europa League qualification, while Chelsea travel to South Yorkshire in April.
“The main thing is getting three points,” Sharp said. “And that’s what we were able to do last time out.”