Sheffield United v Blackburn Rovers: Something very special, Iliman Ndiaye included, is growing at Bramall Lane
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Not content with beating the new Blackburn Rovers’ chief to Anel Ahmedhodzic’s signature, dashing his hopes of resurrecting their partnership at Malmo, Sheffield United’s manager then wrecked the visitors’ hopes of brokering another loan for Reda Khadra. The young German, who impressed on his full Championship debut for Heckingbottom’s men, was one of main reasons why Rovers flirted with automatic promotion from long periods of last term.
If Tomasson viewed this fixture as a chance to exact revenge, he left South Yorkshire sorely disappointed. The Dane, appointed as Tony Mowbray’s successor after winning his second Allsvenskan title, watched his team swept aside by opponents bristling with purpose and conviction.
Something good, nearly as good as the second of the two goals scored by substitute Iliman Ndiaye, appears to be growing at Bramall Lane.
“From start to finish we were excellent,” said Heckingbottom, after seeing Oliver Norwood set United on course for a win which leaves them top of the fledgling table. “And we had an aggression without the ball.”
Khadra’s reward for excelling at Ewood Park was a frosty reception from the travelling fans. But his skin is clearly thicker than a rhino at Berlin Zoo and, before those in the home section had finished singing the Greasy Chip Butty song, the 21-year-old set the tone for what would prove a one-sided first-half by going close to opening the scoring.
After witnessing Ahmedhodzic then test Rovers’ resilience - the Bosnian centre-half appears to be a frustrated winger - Oli McBurnie went even closer. But having latched onto John Fleck’s pass, swept beneath goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski, the striker’s bad luck turned positively rancid. As he prepared to celebrate ending a barren run stretching back to September, McBurnie, whose progress has been hampered by illness and injury, saw Ash Phillips somehow sweep the ball away to safety.
“Oli was excellent,” Heckingbottom insisted. “He was involved in all the good things we did.”
Rovers were still fighting a desperate rearguard action when United broke their resolve a quarter-of-an-hour before the interval. John Fleck’s driving run was illegally halted by Sammi Szmodics and, after shaping to aim the resulting free-kick into the left of Kaminski’s net, Norwood duly went for the right instead.
“You always say to Oli ‘Get on the ball’ because he stands out,” said Heckingbottom. “He’s got the pass and the shot.”
Rovers had more about them after the break. Much more in fact. Still, it was United who continued to create the better openings, with a private duel breaking out between McBurnie and Kaminski. Twice McBurnie found himself with only the Belgian to beat. And twice the United striker was thwarted.
But his frustration was eased by claiming the assist, as substitute Ndiaye fired home from close range in the 74th minute. Five later, the Senegal international put the contest beyond Rovers’ reach, firing home from inside the box after bamboozling two defenders during a run which began near the halfway line.
“It was a well deserved victory,” Tomasson said. “They were better than us.”