Sheffield United v Stoke City: Jayden Bogle double strengthens Blades' grip on second place

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Alex Neil doesn’t look like a guy who is easily intimidated. Stoke City’s manager patrols the touchline wearing a permanent scowl, barking out instructions and giving off the demeanour of someone who could handle himself during a bar brawl in his native north Lanarkshire.

True to both character and form - but more of that later - Sheffield United found this match much tougher going than it really should have been, surviving a torrid period after Nick Powell handed the visitors a lifeline moments before the interval.

Still, in the end, Paul Heckingbottom’s men got the job done. Which, because there are no marks for style in a division as unpredictable as the Championship, is all that really matters. Particularly when, having seen goals from Iliman Ndiaye and Jayden Bogle lay the foundations for a tenth win in twelve outings, they moved 11 points clear of third-placed Watford.

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“It was always going to be hard work, we knew it was going to be tough,” said Heckingbottom, after Bogle netted for a second time to seal United’s victory. “I’m expecting it to be exactly like that between now and the end (of the season).”

Beaten by City earlier this season, the team Heckingbottom picked for the return appeared much stronger. Not only in terms of personnel, with Max Lowe and Sander Berge among those returning to the starting eleven. But also in terms of its personality too, which was just as well given Neil’s presence in the technical area. Probably more than anyone else in the division, the Scot has a habit of causing United problems. Sunderland gave them a scare way back in August, when Heckingbottom’s opposite number was still at the helm. Two months later, Neil masterminded their downfall at the bet365 Stadium. But Neil’s hopes of engineering a repeat of that result were dealt an almighty blow when Ndiaye netted reached double figures for the campaign with an effortlessly simple finish. James McAtee released Lowe who drove the ball across the box before the Senegal international swept it past Jack Bonham.

Having highlighted the burgeoning partnership between Ndiaye and McAtee as the driving force behind their FA Cup victory over Millwall a week earlier, Heckingbottom nodded his head in appreciation when it weaved its magic yet again soon after; the midfielder firing just over following a delightful piece of skill by United’s goalscorer.

Bogle stretched United’s advantage using tenacity rather than technique, when he robbed Josh Laurent of possession and beat Bonham at the near post. But a stroke of fortune, and a collective lapse in concentration, provided City with a lifeline on the stroke of half-time; Powell’s cross evading everyone as it flew into the net.

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“I’ll take the blame first-half,” Neil admitted. “I wanted us to open the pitch up. When we took less risks, United panicked a bit.”

Sheffield United wing-back Jayden Bogle of Sheffield UNited (centre) celebrates his goal against Stoke City: Lexy Ilsley / SportimageSheffield United wing-back Jayden Bogle of Sheffield UNited (centre) celebrates his goal against Stoke City: Lexy Ilsley / Sportimage
Sheffield United wing-back Jayden Bogle of Sheffield UNited (centre) celebrates his goal against Stoke City: Lexy Ilsley / Sportimage

Heckingbottom was still waiting for his side to come out for the second period when Ndiaye limped-off with a little over a quarter-of-an-hour remaining. Berge roused them from their slumber, firing over the crossbar from close-range soon after. But it was Bogle, again, who settled things from substitute Tommy Doyle’s centre.

“The only blemish was, after being in control we were a little too slow to set up,” Heckingbottom added. “But we got there.”

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Bogle, Lowe, Robinson, Egan, Ahmedhodzic, Norwood, Berge, McAtee (Doyle 58), Sharp © (Osborn 77), Ndiaye (Jebbison 71). Not used: Davies, Basham, Coulibaly, Brooks.

Stoke City: Bonham, Fox, Souttar, Jagielka, Baker ©, Brown, Tymon, Thompson (Gayle 86), Wilmot (Clarke 79), Powell (Campbell 79), Laurent. Not used: Fielding, Kilkenny, Fosu, Taylor.

Referee: Michael Salisbury (Lancashire).

Attendance: 29,644.