Sheffield United v Millwall: Three goals, one red card and some controversial refereeing as The Blades lose
Sometimes, rather than science, tactical adjustments or forensic pre-match analysis, football matches are shaped by a rush of blood to the head.
This, Sheffield United will realise when they reflect on tonight’s defeat by Millwall, was one of those instances. Having seized the initiative after failing to be punished for an abject first-half performance, Slavisa Jokanovic’s men were growing in stature and had seized the initiative when Morgan Gibbs-White saw red following a dive inside the penalty area.
Had he stayed on, United would have fancied their chances of claiming a victory against opponents who had taken the lead through Jed Wallace before Billy Sharp’s penalty levelled the scores.
Instead, with Jake Cooper converting from distance in added time, they were left not only counting the cost of the youngster’s rash decision-making but also Matthew Donohue’s inexplicable decision not to dismiss George Saville for a deliberate trip on John Fleck. With his name already in the referee’s notebook, the former Chelsea man should have walked. Instead, much to United’s disgust and dismay, he stayed on the pitch.
After finally settling on the strategy and formation he believes can deliver success, Jokanovic has been loath to change his starting eleven in recent weeks. Whether it was a nod to the demands of a fixture schedule which saw this fixture sandwiched in between games against Barnsley and Stoke City or a response to something he saw during Saturday’s win over the latter, the Serb made two unenforced switches for a contest against a Millwall side which could easily have been three goals to the good inside the first quarter of an hour rather than just one.
After Robin Olsen had been caught out by Wallace’s quick-thinking - encouraged by the Swede’s positioning, he swept home from near the by-line - Scott Malone fired over before Sheyi Ojo, on loan from Liverpool, was left screaming in frustration when he escaped his marker but failed to receive possession.
Conor Hourihane, one of two players to benefit from Jokanovic’s rotation, did his best to bring some calm to a midfield which was left badly shaken by Wallace’s opener before being withdrawn before the break. But it was not until the other - David McGoldrick - drew a superb save from Bartosz Bialkowski that United began to rediscover their poise. Moments after Osborn had under-hit a pass towards the onrushing Enda Stevens, Gibbs-White judged one of his own to absolute perfection and sent his team mate bursting through the middle. Opting for placement rather than power, McGoldrick was about to raise his arms in celebration until the Pole got a faint but decisive touch.
Another, this time from Malone on Fleck, was responsible for handing United the lifeline their display barely deserved; Sharp sending Bialkowski the wrong way after the referee had pointed to the spot.
Just as they were gathering momentum, Gibbs-White’s dismissal threatened to curtailed United’s progress. Having been cautioned for a foul on Malone before the interval, the 21-year-old received his marching orders after Donohue adjudged he had dived rather than been felled on the edge of the six yard box.
Iliman Ndiaye and Sharp went close as United, who saw McGoldrick scoop over from two yards, created chances. But just as they appeared set to claim a point, Cooper pounced.