'We threw it away' - Sheffield United's nerves will be jangling as they are beaten by Millwall

Sheffield United entered The Den - the real one, not the sanitised version they experienced only one month ago - and didn’t emerge unscathed as Tom Bradshaw’s hat-trick propelled Millwall to victory.
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Paul Heckingbottom refused to make excuses, despite suggesting there were some including the Championship’s fixture schedule. Instead, he laid the blame for this set-back squarely at the feet of his squad; accusing them of carelessly throwing away what would have been a valuable point in the race for the Premier League.

“You get what you deserve. We started like a team that played on a Wednesday night and were still in bed,” he said. “We turned it around and it’s disappointing to give them what we did.”

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Still second but with their lead over third in danger of being gnawed away, neither the result nor aspects of United’s performance will quell fears the road towards automatic promotion might prove harder to navigate than even their circumspect manager dare predict. Heckingbottom’s men grew in stature as the afternoon progressed, with Daniel Jebbison missing an opportunity before Bradshaw claimed his second of the contest.

A close-up of the wall as Tommy Doyle of Sheffield United scores from a free kick to make it 1-1 during the Sky Bet Championship between Millwall and Sheffield United at The Den: Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesA close-up of the wall as Tommy Doyle of Sheffield United scores from a free kick to make it 1-1 during the Sky Bet Championship between Millwall and Sheffield United at The Den: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
A close-up of the wall as Tommy Doyle of Sheffield United scores from a free kick to make it 1-1 during the Sky Bet Championship between Millwall and Sheffield United at The Den: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

But that improvement came on the back of a woeful first-half display. After Tommy Doyle’s equaliser, a delightful piece of improvisation by fellow Manchester City loanee James McAtee appeared to have averted the prospect of back to back losses following the midweek set-back to Middlesbrough. But Bradshaw had other ideas, resuscitating the hosts with another clinical finish.

United’s durability was impressive. Their attention to detail wasn’t.

“We showed everything we are about, to arrest that lethargy to begin with,” said Heckingbottom, unfavourably comparing United’s latest body of work to the one they produced during their recent FA Cup success here. “Then we give it away again.”

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What always promised to be a tough afternoon became even tougher when Bradshaw fired Millwall ahead early on. The centre-forward took advantage of some careless defending by thrashing the ball past Wes Foderingham at the near post. United’s goalkeeper, beaten by the ferocity of the shot, will have been disappointed to concede from that angle. The same goes for those in front of him, who allowed Bradshaw to ghost into position uninterrupted.

Tom Bradshaw of Millwall celebrates with Danny McNamara and former Sheffield United player Oliver Burke: Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesTom Bradshaw of Millwall celebrates with Danny McNamara and former Sheffield United player Oliver Burke: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Tom Bradshaw of Millwall celebrates with Danny McNamara and former Sheffield United player Oliver Burke: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Having drafted Chris Basham, Doyle and Jebbison back into his starting eleven, Heckingbottom believed he had equipped United for the physical test which awaited them. But, until the closing stages of the opening period, they found themselves failing to pass that and also the footballing challenge Rowett’s men set.

Somehow, United entered the interval back on level terms though when Doyle converted a long-range set-piece. George Long, one of three former United players on Millwall’s roster, should have clawed it away to safety but appeared to misjudge the flight of the midfielder’s free-kick.

Goals, as United had been reminded three days earlier during their meeting with Michael Carrick’s team, change games. The one Doyle scored certainly infused them with a greater sense of self-belief and Jebbison could have edged them in front when he drew a fine save from Long.

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But an ability to seize big moments has the same effect too. Soon after that miss, Bradshaw pounced again after meeting Andreas Voglesammer’s cross before McAtee danced his way into position before finding the roof of the net. Then, Bradshaw and the German combined for a second time.

Tommy Doyle celebrates his free-kick at Millwall: Paul Terry / SportimageTommy Doyle celebrates his free-kick at Millwall: Paul Terry / Sportimage
Tommy Doyle celebrates his free-kick at Millwall: Paul Terry / Sportimage

Millwall: Long, McNamara, Wallace, Cooper ©, Burke (Honeyman 72), Bradshaw (Watmore 89), Fleming (Evans 90), Cresswell, Shackleton (Leonard 72), Voglsammer (Malone 89), Saville. Not used: Bialkowski, Esse.

Sheffield United: Foderingham, Basham (McAtee 77), Egan ©, Robinson, Bogle, Lowe, Norwood, Doyle (Osborn 55), Berge, McBurnie, Jebbison (Ndiaye 62). Not used: Davies, Fleck, Ahmedhodzic, Clark.

Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).

Attendance: 15,571.