BILLY SHARP’S first act on leaving the field after a pulsating Yorkshire derby was to head straight to the referee’s room.
The Sheffield United captain wanted the match ball, believing he and not Chris Basham had got the vital touch for the sixth and final goal of a game that will live long in the memory of League One’s biggest crowd of the season.
Unfortunately for Sharp, Jon Moss did not offer too much encouragement to a striker desperate to claim his first hat-trick in more than eight years and nor, as it turned out, did Basham.
“Sharpy got a ball from Bradford after the game but I am not sure how,” laughed Basham when asked by The Yorkshire Post whether his captain’s claim was justified.
“No-one has signed it yet, I hope you have noticed that – and I won’t be signing it, that’s for sure!”
Sharp, though, would not be dissuaded. “I got a touch and Bash got a touch afterwards,” insisted the striker. “Was it going in anyway? It is hard to tell because, if you look at it, it looks like it could have been mine.
“But I am going to claim the goal because I love scoring goals. I went to see the referee and he handed me the ball. I asked: ‘What do I do now because it has gone down as a Basham goal?’ He said that will be it.
“He writes it up in his report. So, I had a little joke with him. Seriously, though, the main thing is we got a point – and, hopefully, I will get another chance to get a hat-trick this season.”
Sharp and Basham may have been unable to agree on just who had applied the all-important touch to John Fleck’s 73rd-minute corner but the pair, and the 20,972 crowd, were in full agreement at the final whistle that they had been part of a classic.
Played in the right spirit and to the backdrop of a boisterous atmosphere, this was derby football at its best. Passion was in abundance from both sides, as was resilience with Bradford coming from behind twice and the Blades once before honours ended even.
On the balance of play, a point apiece was just about right. United were the better side in the opening half-hour but then the hosts responded in kind and, with steadier finishing, the score at the end of a contest that saw play rage from one end to the other could have seen ten or even a dozen goals shared rather than six.
No wonder the two teams were afforded a standing ovation at the final whistle from City’s biggest home league crowd since 22,057 packed Valley Parade for the visit of Liverpool in May, 2001.
It was not just the fans, either, who enjoyed being part of such a fantastic advert for League One with the combatants also clearly relishing such an entertaining tussle.
“In the tunnel beforehand, I could tell both teams were up for it,” said Sharp, whose brace took his tally against the Bantams to seven in his last seven appearances.
“I just felt it was going to be a good game, though maybe not quite as good as it turned out. Both sides will be disappointed but also relieved to get something out of the game.
“We scored three, had one disallowed and could have scored a few more. I am delighted with a point because it means we are 10 unbeaten and can keep driving forward.”
Jordy Hiwula, who scored one of Bradford’s three goals and also hit the crossbar with five minutes remaining, agreed.
“It was a crazy game,” said the Huddersfield Town loanee. “Both teams went out to win it and tried to play football.
“The game was end-to-end stuff and we could have won it at the end. I thought my shot was going in but, instead, it hit the bar. A point was a fair result.”
Derby games are often tight affairs and with City fielding two centre-backs at full-back and the Blades again starting with a back three, the 65th meeting of these two Yorkshire rivals was expected to be nip and tuck. It was anything but.
Sharp’s headed finish from a cross floated in by Mark Duffy in the 17th minute kick-started a pulsating affair that, both managers admitted afterwards, had a little bit of everything.
Billy Clarke equalised 10 minutes before the break by tapping in Matthew Kilgallon’s cross but by then the visitors had missed two gilt-edged opportunities through Matt Done and Daniel Lafferty.
Sharp then had a ‘goal’ chalked off soon after the restart for a foul but he would not be denied on 51 minutes when a quick free-kick by Fleck caught the home defence flat-footed.
Bradford’s response was impressive, Hiwula firing in at the back post on the hour and then Timothee Dieng volleyed a cross from Kilgallon past Simon Moore just eight minutes later.
All of a sudden it was United’s turn to have their resolve tested and they duly delivered when James Hanson missed Fleck’s corner and Basham got the final touch as the ball bounced in off the post.
“There are teams who you just score against,” said Sharp, denied what would have been his first hat-trick since netting all three goals in a victory over Queens Park Rangers at Bramall Lane in August, 2008.
“I had a feeling I would score against Bradford. Their fans wind me up and I like to wind them back up. The referee did get on to me at one stage not to go too far.
“To be fair, I was expecting the Bradford fans to start singing when they went 3-2 up but it was all good-natured. I was just happy to be able to play such a great game in an atmosphere like this.”