Watford v Sheffield United: How The Blades lost this game at Vicarage Road

A combination of Watford’s attacking brilliance and refereeing buffoonery, aided and abetted by what their manager Paul Heckingbottom felt was a dubious interpretation of the offside law, prevented Sheffield United from making a solid start to the new Championship season.

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Joao Pedro’s strike, soon after the interval, ensured it was the Hertfordshire club which came out on top following a contest which proved a test of both teams’ tactical nous as well as their creativity.

After initially struggling to contain Emmanuel Dennis and Ismaila Sarr, who provided the pass for the Brazilian to convert, United grew in stature and posed questions of their own before conceding from a corner they had taken.

lliman Ndiaye of Sheffield United is challenged by Tom Cleverley of Watford: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Which would have been tough enough for Heckingbottom to take without Josh Smith, the man in the middle, setting in motion the whole chain of events by impeding John Fleck when the set-piece broke down.

Still, when their frustration subsides, United should be encouraged by their night’s work against a side boasting two of the division’s most powerful cheat codes. If Dennis and Sarr remain at Vicarage Road, Watford will be a strong bet to go up.

Heckingbottom went all ‘Jose Mourinho’ beforehand, suddenly appearing on the pitch in front of his raucous supporters and imploring them to make even more of a din than they had been during the pre-match warm-up.

His counterpart, the urbane Rob Edwards, preferred to adopt a lower key approach, marking his first fixture in charge with a brief wave and tug of his perfectly tailored top.

Sheffield United unveiled their new strip at Vicarage Road

It quickly became apparent their opponents were even slicker than Edwatds’s attire. Well, Sarr and Dennis to be precise. One early move, which saw the latter breeze past Ciaran Clark before sending his team mate darting through came within inches of breaking the deadlock.

The contest quickly settled into a predictable pattern, as Sarr and Dennis caused problems while Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge tried their best to do likewise at the other end of the pitch.

Berge saw an effort spiral straight at Daniel Bachmann, after a deflection took the power off his shot. But Ndiaye should have beaten the Austrian during the closing stages of the first period. His reaction, after failing to convert having fended-off Hassane Kamara, confirmed a big chance had gone begging.

Daniel Jebbison struggled to make an impression during the opening exchanges before bursting into life before the interval; forcing Bachmann to make an acrobatic save.

Sheffield United began the new season at Watford: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Despite struggling to make an impact early on, United will have been satisfied with their early work.

Debutant Clark was uncomfortable after being forced to operate as a right side centre-half when it emerged fellow new signing Anel Ahmedhodzic was suspended. But Ndiaye, who has been pumping plenty of iron over the summer, used his muscle well without sacrificing any of the magic which recently saw him drafted into Senegal’s squad.

All of that good work was undone in a handful of bizarre second-half seconds. After Fleck was impeded by the official following a United corner, Watford darted upfield and took advantage of some indecisive defending when Pedro met Sarr’s pass.

Heckingbottom, already infuriated by Smith’s positioning, looked incensed when he was cautioned for protesting Ndiaye’s compatriot had strayed offside before providing the assist.

Ismaila Sarr of Watford and Rhys Norrington Davies of Sheffield United challenge for the ball: Jonathan Moscrop / Sportimage

Watford: Bachmann, Cleverley, Pedro (Gosling 87), Sema, Kamara, Cathcart, Sarr (Manaj 81), Dennis, Kabasele, Sierralta, Kayembe. Not used: Hamer, Ngakia, Troost-Ekong, Asprilla, Bayo.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Baldock, Stevens (Lowe 55), Norrington-Davies, Egan, Clark (Khadra 68), Norwood (Osborn 68), Fleck, Berge, Ndiaye (Sharp 78), Jebbison (Brewster 68). Not used: Amissah, Gordon.

Referee: Josh Smith (Cambridgeshire).