Sheffield United v Sunderland Highlights: A game of two firsts and one red card

Paul Heckingbottom has spent the past two weeks stressing the importance of keeping the squad he has constructed intact, reminding Sheffield United’s board in the most diplomatic manner possible that clubs with ambitions of promotion do not part company with their best players.
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The roles of Sander Berge and Max Lowe in the goal which settled this contest against a spirited Sunderland side, who caused the hosts far more problems than opponents at a numerical disadvantage should, lent even more weight to the manager’s already compelling argument.

Leading courtesy of Anel Ahmedhodzic’s effort, scored while the dust was still settling on Dan Neil’s dismissal, United were still struggling to kill off the visitors when they emerged for the second period.

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That was until Lowe, aided and abetted by Berge’s delightful stepover, netted for the first time in a red and white shirt.

Both men have seen their futures questioned as the transfer window prepares to close. But the significance of their double act, during the early exchanges of what proved a ridiculously competitive second period, became apparent when Lynden Gooch reduced the deficit.

“Goals change games,” said Heckingbottom, admitting he was “disappointed” with United’s performance before the break. “People always get a moment. They did. But we’re never too proud to celebrate.”

United landed the first telling blow in this battle between two genuine Championship heavyweights, when Ahmedhodzic climbed highest to meet an Oliver Norwood corner moments after Neil’s sending-off.

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Gooch’s rangefinder, during the opening skirmishes of the contest, was comfortably collected by Wes Foderingham. Iliman Ndiaye and Rhian Brewster, starting in place of the injured Billy Sharp, nearly found a way through the visitors’ guard.

The breakthrough, however, came via set-play just after the 30 minute mark. Maybe Sunderland were still working out their marking patterns following Neil’s tug on James McAtee’s shirt. But that still doesn’t explain how Ahmedhodzic, standing six feet three inches tall, seemingly went unnoticed after plonking himself on the edge of the six yard box and then headed the ball home. Again, another first.

The Bosnian will take all the credit, and rightly so. But Ndiaye deserves special mention for twice badgering referee James Linington after being hauled down. The boy, in footballing terms at least, is fast becoming a man.

Proving he is not one to be swayed by terrace opinion or loaded questions by journalists, Heckingbottom again elected to start with Reda Khadra on the bench. The 21-year-old German has been used sparingly since arriving from Brighton and Hove Albion on loan, much to the chagrin of some United supporters. But their manager did hand another player he has borrowed, Manchester City’s McAtee, his full league debut for the hosts. Best known for his touch, the youngster also demonstrated he possesses a tenacious streak too; hacking away at an opponent after being felled on the edge of the box and then swarming all over Neil following the Sunderland man’s woeful hot shoe shuffle which saw him foxtrot off the pitch.

Anel Ahmedhodzic of Sheffield Utd (C) scores the opening goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane. Picture: Lexy Ilsley / SportimageAnel Ahmedhodzic of Sheffield Utd (C) scores the opening goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane. Picture: Lexy Ilsley / Sportimage
Anel Ahmedhodzic of Sheffield Utd (C) scores the opening goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane. Picture: Lexy Ilsley / Sportimage
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United’s second came via a beautifully simple move; Berge glancing over his shoulder and allowing Norwood’s threaded pass to reach Ahmedhodzic, who centred for Lowe to convert.

Sunderland struck back, when the hosts got themselves into a pickle, conceded possession and saw Ross Stewart find Gooch who clipped over the advancing Foderingham.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Baldock, Lowe, Ahmedhodzic, Egan ©, Norrington-Davies, Norwood, McAtee (Fleck 64), Berge, Ndiaye (McBurnie 74), Brewster (Khadra 64). Not used: Amissah, Basham, Doyle, Jebbison.

Sunderland: Patterson, Cirkin, Batth (Alese 86), O’Nien, Gooch ©, Clarke (Diamond 86), Embleton (Hume 53), Stewart, Pritchard (Wright 53), Simms (Matete 53), Neil. Not used: Bass, Roberts.

Anel Ahmedhodzic of Sheffield United opens the scoring against Sunderland: Simon Bellis / SportimageAnel Ahmedhodzic of Sheffield United opens the scoring against Sunderland: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Anel Ahmedhodzic of Sheffield United opens the scoring against Sunderland: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Referee: James Linington (Newport).