Sheffield United 2-1 Sunderland AFC
Sunderland were edged out in their first Sky Bet Championship defeat of the season on Wednesday night, as the 10-man Black Cats were beaten 2-1 by Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Anel Ahmedhodzic and Max Lowe hit the crucial strikes for Paul Heckingbottom’s men either side of half-time, after Dan Neil was sent off for a last-man foul.
Lynden Gooch – captain for the night in the absence of Corry Evans – brought the Lads back into the game with a tidy finish, but the chance for a point just proved too far.
Alex Neil was affected by the precautionary unavailability of Evans, meaning Gooch skippered the side. Luke O’Nien came in for Dan Ballard, with Elliot Embleton slotting into midfield.
The opening stages began with the Lads arguably on the front foot, Gooch at the heart of things – firstly with a shot on target whipped towards Wes Foderingham in the opening minute.
He then fizzed in an almost inch-perfect ball for the arriving Ross Stewart, but Foderingham was able to gather a fraction of a second before the striker could convert.
With 20 minutes on the clock, Stewart then angled a low shot just wide from the edge of the area, after Luke O’Nien had pulled off an excellent block with his head to deny James McAtee.
After half an hour, a double blow struck for the Lads. McAtee dispossessed Neil 25 yards from goal and advanced towards the area before being pulled back by the midfielder – referee James Linington brandishing a red card.
And when the resulting free-kick produced a corner, Ahmedhodzic rose highest to meet Oliver Norwood’s inswinger and head in the opener.
The Lads saw out the first half at one down, O’Nien and Alex Pritchard blocking further shots, but after the break the hosts wasted no time in scoring a second.
Ahmedhodzic got in behind down the right-hand side, and squared for Lowe who would slot in to double the Blades’ advantage.
Alex Neil took steps to readjust his shape to a 4-4-1 with the numerical disadvantage, and it immediately paid off 10 minutes into the half.
Bailey Wright, Trai Hume and Jay Matete entered the fray and it was Matete who started the move, nicking the ball in front of McAtee and finding Stewart, who in turn played through Gooch to chip a wonderful finish over Foderingham to pull one back.
Sheffield United then took steps to preserve the lead against the 10-man Black Cats, but would naturally see plenty of the ball. They came mighty close with 20 minutes to go to adding a third, Wright getting a crucial deflection on Sander Berge’s shot as it ricocheted back off the post.
Several more Blades shots were blocked by a determined Sunderland side, as Aji Alese and Jack Diamond came on for the final five minutes.
Seven minutes of added time were allotted as the Lads put everything in to try and salvage a point. The Blades played on the counter for the dying stages, Anthony Patterson terrifically denying both Oli McBurnie and John Egan.
On the night it proved to be a bridge too far as the final whistle blew at 2-1, but a gritty display will stand the Lads in good stead for Saturday’s trip to Stoke City.
SUNDERLAND AFC: Patterson, Gooch ©, Batth (Alese 85’), O’Nien, Cirkin, Neil, Embleton (Matete 54’), Pritchard (Hume 54’), Clarke (Diamond 85’), Simms (Wright 54’), Stewart.
Subs not used: Bass, Roberts.
Sheffield United: Foderingham, Ahmedhodzic, Egan ©, Norrington-Davies, Baldock, Berge, Norwood, Lowe, McAtee (Fleck 65’), Brewster (Khadra 65’), Ndiaye (McBurnie 74’).
Subs not used: Amissah, Basham, Doyle, Jebbison.