Sheffield United v Cardiff City: Iliman Ndiaye scores and Billy Sharp returns as Blades record vital win

After all the talk about takeovers, following 48 hours of chatter about prospective new owner Henry Mauriss, this was an opportunity for Sheffield United to switch the focus back to football and their push for the play-offs.

Saturday, 23rd April 2022, 5:32 pm
Updated Sunday, 24th April 2022, 9:59 am

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It was one they grabbed in the best possible fashion, with Iliman Ndiaye’s clinical finish ensuring the prospect of a return to the Premier League should once again dominate conversations around Bramall Lane.

Something, it transpired after watching his team record a vital victory over Cardiff City, Paul Heckingbottom welcomes.

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Sheffield United's Oliver Norwood turns away from Tommy Doyle of Cardiff City: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“I’m just bothered about us and us performing,” he said. “That’s what it’s about from here on in.”

With Billy Sharp back on the scene following injury, there were parts of the game when United displayed the profligate traits which had become all too familiar during his five week absence.

That was until Ndiaye answered Heckingbottom’s call for new heroes to emerge, flashing a bullet header past Dillon Phillips.

Still sixth in the Championship, but now three points clear of seventh with two matches of their season remaining, United weren’t always at their best. Crucially, however, they found a way to win.

Dillon Phillips of Cardiff City saves at the feet of Sander Berge: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“It doesn’t matter how we get them now,” Heckingbottom reminded. “Excellent from my lads,” City’s Steve Morison countered. “But they took their chance.”

As well as he has performed since being parachuted into the senior squad, teenager Will Osula’s presence on the bench raised suspicions that Sharp, United’s finest striker by some considerable margin, is perhaps not as fit as Heckingbottom had earlier insisted. After all disinformation, deliberately spread to try and confuse opponents, is fast becoming one of the manager’s favourite pre-match ploys. George Baldock, described on Thursday as “definitely okay” to start, missed-out due to the hamstring problem which had initially thrown his participation into doubt.

Those fears were expunged when, after netting for the second time in three outings, Ndiaye limped-off and was replaced by the 36-year-old.

“It’s great to see him on the grass,” said Heckingbottom, correctly insisting that Sharp should have later been awarded a penalty after being nudged in the back by City substitute Mark McGuinness.

Sheffield United's lliman Ndiaye exchanges words with Perry Ng of Cardiff City: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Perhaps it was the enormity of the occasion, regarding their own campaign at least, but the only people who seemed disorientated during the opening exchanges were United themselves. Baldock’s replacement, Ben Osborn, looked assured enough. But centre-halves John Egan and Jack Robinson, whose stray pass nearly presented City with their second opening of the contest, appeared uncharacteristically edgy. Moments beforehand, Max Watters had skipped effortlessly beyond the Republic of Ireland international but, with only Wes Foderingham to beat, saw his attempt scrambled clear.

Gradually, as the afternoon unfolded, United began to emerge from the fog which had clouded their earlier work. Ben Osborn, following a clever Sander Berge dummy, saw a vicious long range effort parried away to safety as Ndiaye found his touch. A clever lay-off from the Frenchman, followed by an even better pass from Morgan Gibbs-White, created the opening which saw Berge go close midway through the first period.

But it wasn’t until the beginning of the second when United’s patience and indeed perseverance paid-off, when Ndiaye powered home Gibbs-White’s cross. The Frenchman is best known for his delicate skills. But this was all about brute force.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Stevens, Osborn, Basham, Egan, Robinson, Norwood, Fleck, Berge, Gibbs-White, Ndiaye (Sharp 70). Not used: A Davies, B Davies, Norrington-Davies, Uremovic, Hourihane, Osula.

Cardiff City: Phillips, Bagan, Ralls (McGuiness 46), Hugill, Wintle, Nelson, Drameh (Vaulks 46), Doyle, Watters (Colwill 66), Ng, Denham. Not used: Luthra, Flint, Ikpeazu, Harris.

Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).

Attendance: 26,802.