Sheffield United 1 Bradford City 1: Holt relishing life under Clough

Sheffield United's Jason Holt celebrates putting the Blades ahead at Bramall Lane against Bradford City (Picture: Martyn Harrison).
Sheffield United's Jason Holt celebrates putting the Blades ahead at Bramall Lane against Bradford City (Picture: Martyn Harrison).
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BEFORE heading south in January to join Sheffield United, 
Jason Holt had just one memory of Bramall Lane. It was not a pleasant one.

The Edinburgh-born midfielder, then at Heart of Midlothian and only a few months into his twenties, was part of the Scotland Under-21s side left humiliated by their England counterparts in the Steel City.

Billy Clarke nets Bradford City's late equaliser against Sheffield United (Picture: Martyn Harrison).

Billy Clarke nets Bradford City's late equaliser against Sheffield United (Picture: Martyn Harrison).

A 6-0 hammering by the Auld Enemy in August, 2013, meant the Scots returned north of the border in chastened mood.

Holt, in fairness, only played the final 17 minutes of that embarrassing loss after coming off the bench with the Three Lions having already scored all their goals.

Nevertheless, the home of United was somewhere that Holt and all those involved in a dark blue shirt that dreadful night could have been forgiven for never wanting to set foot again.

Nineteen or so months on, however, and the Scot feels very much at home in S2 after making it three goals in just five starts at the Lane.

The latest of those came just before the hour mark against Bradford City, the midfielder having gambled on Jamie Murphy managing to get the ball into the six-yard box after wriggling clear down the right flank.

It looked like being enough to confirm a play-off place for the Blades, only for Billy Clarke to snatch what, on the balance of play and chances created, was a deserved equaliser with just six minutes remaining.

Clarke’s late leveller undoubtedly took some of the shine off Holt’s fifth goal in United colours, but there can be no doubt just how much the Scot is relishing life right now with Nigel Clough’s men.

“I seem to be getting in the right place at the right time,” admitted the 22-year-old. “I have been getting more and more confident each week. This is the best scoring run I have been on.

“My first visit (to Bramall Lane) wasn’t the best. But this is making up for it and things are going well. I am really enjoying being at Sheffield United.

“It was just disappointing to lose the goal late on. It means we are not mathematically done yet so, as players, we have to focus on finishing the job.

“I watch all the play-offs every year and they are brilliant, real excitement. You can’t predict anything and that is why fans look forward to them.

“I think it might be different to be involved. They are big stages and, as a player, we all want to play on the biggest stages. But it is not done yet.”

Fittingly on the day that the World Championships got under way at the nearby Crucible Theatre, Bradford went into their penultimate derby of the campaign needing the footballing equivalent of snookers to retain even a semblance of interest in the play-offs during the season’s final fortnight.

Ten points adrift with four games to play and a vastly inferior goal difference, the Bantams had to not only claim a first win at Bramall Lane in 27 years but sixth-placed Chesterfield to lose at Oldham Athletic.

In the end, the Spireites claimed a point from a goalless draw so a win would not have been enough. Nevertheless, Bradford can take huge satisfaction from the manner of their performance.

Just four days after being humiliated on home soil by a 6-0 loss to champions Bristol City, the Bantams produced a display full of desire and determination.

No little quality, either, with Clarke capping an energetic 90 minutes with a fine late leveller.

After United had failed to deal with a free-kick and Andrew Davies had returned the ball to the danger area, Clarke swooped to drill a left-foot volley beyond the dive of Mark Howard from 20 yards.

Considering how Bradford had seen two earlier efforts cleared off the line – Chris Basham denying Clarke in the first half and then John Brayford doing the same to Mark Yeates after the break – the hosts could have few complaints at being pegged back.

Not after the manner in which the Blades had lost their way after taking the lead on 57 minutes, Holt having finished from close range after City had been opened up by Murphy’s trickery and speed.

That should have been the cue for United to see out the game but, instead, their tempo dipped and Bradford, who had matched the home side in a first half that started well before becoming scrappy, duly took advantage.

“It was a good end to a difficult week,” said Bantams’ captain Stephen Darby after halting a three-game losing run that had done irreparable damage to the club’s play-off hopes.

“We had to show some character after what happened against Bristol City on Tuesday and I thought we did that.

“Sheffield United are tough opponents, but this was a good result for us. Tuesday was hard, the worst defeat for most of us on a football pitch.

“It hurt us and we had to take that on the chin. The key was bouncing back quickly.

“A Yorkshire derby was a big motivation. We knew our fans would travel in numbers, as they always do. We owed it to them that we proved what it means to wear the Bradford shirt.”